"The Wrestler" DVD Review
April 20, 2009 by Zach Demeter
The film struggled to be made, but once it debuted to audiences The Wrestler quickly grew into the little film that would later go on to win awards and over seven times its budget back worldwide. On top of the acclaim it roped in, it also provided a massive kick star to Mickey Rourke’s career, whose career was struggling for recognition after a slew of 80s films brought him into the spotlight. Now with the acclaim of thousands of critics and theater goers, The Wrestler is making its debut on DVD and Blu-ray so that those who missed it during its limited theatrical run can see just what all the fuss is about.
Mickey Rourke gives the performance of a lifetime as pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a former superstar now paying the price for twenty years of grueling punishment in and out of the ring. But he’s about to risk everything to prove he has one more match left in him: a re-staging of his famous Madison Square Garden bout against “The Ayatollah.” Darren Aronofsky directs a powerful cast in this action-packed saga of guts, glory and gritty determination that is “as irresistible as a headlock” (New York Post).
I had no real inclination to see this film even after all of the buzz surrounded it, partly because I wasn’t really all that interested in Rourke to begin with (and he’s really the whole reason for seeing this film). Still, I’d enjoyed his role in Sin City and knew I’d want to see the film regardless so when the time came, I dug into the disc and found what really was one of the better films I’ve seen in years. Those hoping for an overly complex drama will be sorely disappointed, as what you get from The Wrestler is simply face value—which, to me, was not only refreshing but also very engaging.
The films format likely helped sell it. It’s shot in a documentary style fashion at times, with plenty of shaky camera work and grain tossed about the image. While it will probably turn a few off, I really found the visual style of it to be incredibly engaging in of itself, making it feel all the more real than if it were done in a simple “standard” way of shooting.
Of course the directing and look of the film would’ve meant jack if the acting wasn’t there to back it up and there isn’t a single performance of the limited cast that wasn’t impressive. Every one of the wrestlers involved were true to life and even the small roles like Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of Rourke’s daughter was compelling. Marisa Tomei was no slouch either, but it was really Rourke who sold this film. It was simply amazing how likeable he made the character from the start of the film; there was nary a moment that you weren’t feeling some kind of emotion for his character. Washed up or in his prime (whatever way you want to look at it), Rourke portrayed the wrestler “The Ram” with absolutely stunning perfection.
While the film wasn’t based off of any particular wrestler (it’s more an amalgam of some of the more popular 80s wrestlers), it really doesn’t have to be. The story is almost universal and while we’ve seen it before in television and in movies about aging icons of a sport, the way The Wrestler portrays it simply feels fresh. The scenery that surrounds Rourke, all often gloom and doom, helps remind you of where these former childhood icons and sometimes disappear to. The trailer, drugs, run down van, and images of a career past are some of the strongest visual stimulants of the movie, as they tell the story in less time and fewer words than any character could.
I’ve been slowly avoiding talking about the ending of the film, simply because I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. I can’t say that I didn’t see something like it coming once he got his unfortunate diagnosis. His failed attempts at finding a relationship with his daughter again and his attempts at forging a new one with Tomei’s character were riding high on the emotional wagon, but as expected as the ending to the film was, it was one you hoped wouldn’t arrive. I won’t ruin it (although I probably have if you’ve read between the lines) completely, as it’s really a fantastic ending to this film.
Even though it was almost two hours long, it honestly felt much quicker than that; the pacing of the film was fantastic, with fast cuts and easy progression from sequence to sequence. Again, while the visual style may put a few off, it really ended up only further aiding it in the end. Another testament to how well the film was constructed and written was that even the minor characters, who we hardly saw, felt like we knew them already; the brief glimpses of Rourke’s boss at the grocery store and even Tomei’s character whose home life we see very little of felt completely fleshed out. Maybe it’s just because we’ve seen similar characters in past films and can more quickly relate them to that, but everything about this film really did just feel really fleshed out.
Overall while the film may not live up to all of the hype, if you’re like me and were still a bit reprehensive about seeing it, then you’ll likely be very impressed by the story. It’s simple and easily digested, yet at the same time it sticks with you afterwards and makes you think about what you just saw. Too little do I encounter films that are things you can throw away after seeing them, but The Wrestler is definitely a keeper. Highly Recommended.
Since Fox sent me the screener copy of the DVD and not the final retail edition, I can’t comment on package quality or video transfer. The audio, however, is mostly front focused, with the only surrounds that kick in coming from the music in the film (though the strip club sequences get a bit chatty in the surrounds as well).
Extras…well, “extra,” actually. We get a Within the Ring (42:44) documentary that details the wrestling genre as well as the film itself. There’s also The Wrestler Music Video (3:59) with Springstein, but that’s it. A commentary would’ve been welcome…and you’d think the buzz for this film would’ve warranted at least that, but, alas…nearly a barebones release.
Overall a sad package for a great film. Here’s hoping we get a better edition down the line, in which case you may just want to Rent this one for now, unless of course you care only about the film then it’s Recommended.
The Wrestler arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 21st.