Our first reactions to The Wrestler

Total Film.com spent a rare night out together last night, attending their first screening of Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler. Here's our initial impressions...

Sam says...

Mickey Rourke wasn’t Aronofsky’s first choice for The Wrestler. Nicolas Cage tag-team slapped Rourke into the ring after leaving the project for unspecified reasons.

Perhaps Cage realised something that everyone who watches The Wrestler will state as fact; this is a part written for Mickey Rourke, no one else.

Rourke’s life has been leading up to this point; every bad part, every DUI charge, every angry outburst, they were all steps on the road to playing Randy The Ram.

Because like a Pro Wrestler who shows off his scars to prove his sport isn’t fake, Rourke brings his bruises to the surface for a raw performance that blurs the line between fiction and documentary with brutal ease.

This is a performance that slaps you in the face, smacks you in the gut and folds you in half, leaving you shaken and startled. Make no mistake, in 2009, the Best Actor Oscar will be wearing Spandex.

And, contrary to early reviews, The Wrestler won’t pin you down with unrelenting sentimentalism – there are plenty of laughs here, but never at the expense of the characters. When Randy dances badly to some ‘80s hair-metal to impress his aging stripper true love, you don’t laugh at him, you want to get up and join him.

Aronofksy has finally made good on The Fountain’s promise. This is an affecting, profound and genuinely spiritual film. When Brad Pitt left that project for unspecified reasons, we can only imagine he was relieved when he saw the finished flick.

When Nicolas Cage sees The Wrestler, we reckon he’ll have similar emotions – but for very different reasons. Because as far as The Wrestler’s concerned, no-one can compete with Mickey Rourke.

Chris says...

The Wrestler could well be the most culturally dangerous movie of the year

Watching it is a bit like meeting a beautiful girl after being single for a long time, but discovering she’s into collecting Beanie Babies or attends I Love Lucy conventions. Or in the case of The Wrestler, it’s being nostalgic for the eighties.

After the slight stumble that was The Fountain, it’s definitely a return to form for Aronofsky. The flair of Pii and Requiem in gone, instead replaced with a style that would have been called documentary in the days before every film with wobbly camerawork was labelled with the term.

The screenplay is tight, the tone is spot-on and it’s obvious everyone involved knows exactly what they’re trying to do with the picture. And whilst they’ll be a few disappointed that Mickey Rourke’s isn’t quite as spectacular as some of the early reports suggested, his understated performance nails every nuance of his character.

In short, it’s good. So good in fact, that there’s a small possibility it will become influential. And in the same way that American Graffiti caused a wave of nostalgia for the fifties, I can see people getting behind Glam Metal and WWF – sorry, WWE - again. That scares the shit out of me, frankly.

The decade that taste, sense of decency forgot permeates the movie like fog in Gothic Horror. It makes a ton of sense thematically, as Rourke is continually stuck trying to live back in an era the world has left behind (presumably because everyone just wants to forget leg warmers were ever in fashion), but it still jars for anyone who can’t stand big hair and self-gratifying guitar solos.

The only consoling factor is that Aronofsky doesn’t equate Rourke’s hard-on for the era as the solution to his problems. Hopefully that the nostalgia is one of the character’s biggest flaws will turn people away from getting gooey over those ten years.

Otherwise, what follows could make The Darkness seem tame by comparison. If that happens, you’ll find me holed up in a fallout shelter until it’s over.

Sam Ashurst is a London-based film maker, journalist, and podcast host. He's the director of Frankenstein's Creature, A Little More Flesh + A Little More Flesh 2, and co-hosts the Arrow Podcast. His words have appeared on HuffPost, MSN, The Independent, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, and many more, as well as of course for us here at GamesRadar+.