Should I Watch..? 'The Wrestler' (2008)

Updated on June 24, 2019
Benjamin Cox profile image

Ben now has a Twitter account for this blog - Tweet him at @shouldiwatch2 - so you can stay up to date with all his latest content.

Film's poster
Film's poster | Source

What's the big deal?

The Wrestler is a sports drama film released in 2008 and was directed and co-produced by Darren Aronofsky. The film follows a professional wrestler who has fallen on hard times and his efforts to return to the big time as well as his complicated relationships with his estranged daughter and his girlfriend. The movie stars Mickey Rourke, Marisi Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood as well as cameos from numerous professional wrestlers. The movie revived Rourke's career after he won numerous awards and nominations in the lead role and the film was universally praised by critics as well as countless figures within the pro wrestling industry. It would go on to earn more than $44 million worldwide and Aronofsky himself considers the film to be a companion to his more popular and successful film Black Swan.

Enjoyable

4 stars for The Wrestler (2008)

What's it about?

Robin Ramzinski, known to legions of pro wrestling fans as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is a grappler who misses his glory days of being a star in the 1980's. These days, he mentors younger talent in the ring wrestling in local independent promotions while working part-time at his local supermarket. He is also a regular at a strip club where he has befriended one of the older performers, Cassidy. After a successful appearance for a New Jersey promotion, Randy is offered a lucrative "20th anniversary" rematch between him and his old foe from the Eighties, The Ayatollah. Needing the money, Randy agrees.

After a brutal and bloody hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack backstage and is forcing to undergo a heart bypass. Told by his doctor to stop wrestling and abusing steroids, Randy decides that it's safer to retire and work full-time at the supermarket. Cassidy implores Randy to make peace with his estranged daughter Stephanie while Randy struggles to adapt to life away from the ring. Knowing that another match might kill him, Randy begins wondering whether he was too quick to retire...

Trailer

Main Cast

Actor
Role
Mickey Rourke
Robin Ramzinski / Randy "The Ram" Robinson
Marisa Tomei
Cassidy
Evan Rachel Wood
Stephanie Ramzinski
Mark Margolis
Lenny
Todd Barry
Wayne
Wass Stevens
Nick Volpe
Judah Friedlander
Scott Brumberg
Ernest "The Cat" Miller
Bob / The Ayatollah

Technical Info

Director
Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay
Robert Siegel
Running Time
109 minutes
Release Date (UK)
16th January, 2009
Rating
15
Genre
Drama, Sport
Academy Award Nominations
Best Actor (Rourke), Best Supporting Actress (Tomei)
You instantly forget that you are watching Rourke as Randy Robinson - the film feels as authentic as fans of pro-wrestling could hope for.
You instantly forget that you are watching Rourke as Randy Robinson - the film feels as authentic as fans of pro-wrestling could hope for. | Source

What's to like?

Aside from Barry Blaustein's increasingly out-dated documentary Beyond The Mat, there have been few films to peek behind the curtain of professional wrestling and expose the business. While The Wrestler may only focus on one man's experience of the industry, it's his personal story that we are interested in and not the wider wrestling community. However, you totally buy into Rourke and his performance as The Ram due to the level of his performance and the direction by Aronofsky to create as believable a world as this. Yes, the story might seem a touch melodramatic but no story ever followed a guy who lived happily ever after.

Using real, recognisable wrestlers in the supporting cast also helps make this film feel like a blood-soaked and authentic replication of the "sport" and the dark sides associated with it - be it health issues, family relations or even recognition of the performance. The film has some gentle comedy in there but in truth, this is a downbeat look at a man whose greatest talent is also his greatest opponent, one which could even kill him. The film belongs to Rourke as the larger-than-life character in the centre but he gets plenty of support from Tomei and Wood as the two women in his life pleading with him to make the right decision. Like Black Swan, the film illustrates that there is much more going on behind the scenes and immerses us in the blood, sweat and tears that go into each choreographed performance. For fans of pro wrestling, this is as good as it gets - a serious look at a business often treated with disdain or in a comedic manner.

Fun Facts

  • Among the real-life wrestlers who make cameo appearances are current WWE talent Cesaro, Nigel McGuinness and Ron "R-Truth" Killings, Ring Of Honor champion Jay Lethal, ECW icon and all-round good guy The Blue Meanie and AEW wrestler Chuck Taylor.
  • Blading or juicing - when a wrestler intentionally cuts themselves to get blood visiable - is one trick of the business shown in the film when Rourke actually cuts himself open with a concealed razor blade.
  • Rourke's decision to use Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N' Roses as his walk-on music stems from his days as a boxer in the early Nineties when he did the same. With the film's budget being so restrictive, Axl Rose agreed to the use of the song for free.
  • Among the film's supporters within the wrestling industry are Mick Foley, Bret Hart, WWE chairman Vince McMahon, commentator Jim Ross and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper who reportedly broke down in tears after a screening.

What's not to like?

The only thing - and I do mean, the only thing - that prevents me for awarding it five precious stars is the same issue that plagues countless sports-based movies and that's predictability. The Wrestler suffers the same problem of being about as surprising as finding a red-necked Republican at a WWE house-show with a crummy sign and questionable hygiene. As each element of the plot is introduced, you can see instantly how the film will approach them which undermines the sense of realism carefully constructed over the course of the movie. The story is, as I've already mentioned, fairly over-the-top and possibly more bleak than it needed to be. And during the emotional final moments, you question what it was that drove you to like Rourke's character because I didn't feel particularly well paid off by the ending.

But as a case study for former wrestlers fallen on hard times (and despite the times, it is still an unforgiving industry), the film is hard to beat. It's just refreshing to see the business treated in an adult fashion instead of being dumbed down to entertain young kids. Like video games, fans of pro wrestling have grown up and probably still enjoy tuning into WWE programming and PPVs regularly. Instead of knee-high kids craving the latest toys, pro wrestling's target audience are older and wiser and more astute to the business than ever before. Here, at last, is a film that rewards them as opposed to showing us clunky comedies with Hulk Hogan or goofy nonsense with David Arquette (see below).

The film offers an unflinching look at life away from the ring such as the shattered relationship between Robinson and his daughter.
The film offers an unflinching look at life away from the ring such as the shattered relationship between Robinson and his daughter. | Source

Should I watch it?

Even if professional wrestling leaves you cold, The Wrestler is a gripping and engaging drama that isn't shy about showing us the trauma and impact that the industry has on its performers. From broken families to drug dependency to loneliness, the film is a dark reflection of the inherent showmanship of the business and while it may lack the psychological edge and intensity of Black Swan, I actually prefer this film. It feels more relevant and relateable than Aronofsky's ballet-based drama while Rourke is every bit as great in the lead as Natalie Portman was.

Great For: fans of professional wrestling, professional wrestlers, exposing the business

Not So Great For: supermarket managers, the squeamish, Rourke's future Oscar hopes (if he didn't win for this then he never will)

What else should I watch?

Pro wrestling isn't normally associated with award-heavy dramas like The Wrestler possibly because it is usually the basis for uninspired comedy. Perhaps the most notorious is Ready To Rumble, an awkward misfire of a comedy based in WCW at the time and featuring a large portion of their working roster. In a desperate bid to promote the film, lead star David Arquette was made WCW champion in a real-life wrestling story-line - a decision which fans hated and one which began to signal the demise of the promotion. A similar disaster nearly befall the WWF (as it was known then) during the promotion of No Holds Barred which saw the movie's villain wrestle Hulk Hogan in another poorly-received wrestling story-line.

There are a number of documentaries that examine pro wrestling and its numerous superstars although few that reach a cinematic audience. Beyond The Mat, Blaustein's ground-breaking film, saw a limited cinema release in the UK and captures the then-WWF in a transitional period between maintaining the illusion of wrestling being legitimate (known as kayfabe) and exposing some of the secrets of the business. Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows is a TV documentary that happened to catch one of the most controversial incidents in the history of the business, the Montreal Screwjob. Finally, 2018's Andre The Giant examined one of the industry's most beloved characters, French pro wrestler and actor André René Roussimoff. The TV doc not only follows his life with gigantism but also interviews with wrestling personalities who knew him best. And Hulk Hogan.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Benjamin Cox

    Soap Box

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)