The Wrestler: Revisiting a Former Passion and One of the Best Sports Movies Ever

Matt CullenAnalyst IMarch 20, 2009

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Pro wrestler Rick Flair and actor Mickey Rourke attend the after party for Fox Searchlight's 'The Wrestler' held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on December 16, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Those last eight words seem like such a crazy thing to say about a movie that is yet to even hit DVD, but it is that good.

None of my friends are wrestling fans so the question always pops up: Do you have to be a wrestling fan to love the movie? The answer is absolutely not, it's a powerful movie about a man (Mickey Rourke) so enthralled in his fame which was at its peak in the 80's that he can't let go despite his current state. He's a lonely, battered, and insecure man looking for happiness through two people, a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) whom he blew off for most of her life.

You certainly don't have to be a wrestling fan to love the Mickey Rourke performance, so charismatic and lovable while having more than enough issues on his plate. Some will say it is a gimmick performance, solid but wildly overrated due to the man's personal problems outside of his career that people will connect with.

However, Rourke creates his own character here and does not let his personal life swallow the role of Randy the Ram Robinson and he hits a rare level where it's questionable if anyone else could have played. I feel the same way about Daniel Day-Lewis about his performance the year before in There Will Be Blood, Denzel Washington in The Hurricane, Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront among a few others.

With all due respect to Sean Penn's work in Milk, (His Oscar speech keeps me from being too mad at him) Mickey Rourke deserved the Oscar for best leading actor as did Marisa Tomei in her brutally honest role as a somewhat reluctant romantic object for Mickey Rourke.

But while I definitely don't think you need to be a wrestling fan, it certainly helps. Director Darren Aronofsky goes from the stylish The Fountain to a raw and stripped down work with a documentary feel. Scenes backstage feel very authentic and so do the matches, the barbed wire match especially. Those not familiar with the world of professional wrestling may find the use of a staple gun to be excessive and used for shock value but it is dead on.

It also brings me back to my days of addiction to the WWE. On July 17th, 2003 when I was 13 years old, I arrived in New Jersey visiting family. We first arrived at my grandparents' house and my younger siblings and I were greeted by my cousins the minute we stepped out of the car.

The talk quickly shifted to WWE, little did I know that Thursday night meant that Smackdown would be on, one of the two brands of the show. All this time I had no idea what they are talking about. I thought of it as still the WWF, something that is universally thought of as stupid and fake.

And in a moment that cannot possibly be made up, my cousin Ryan asked me who my favorite guy was on the roster. Clueless as to what I shoud to say in response I quietly muttered, "Lennox Lewis." Yes Lennox Lewis, honestly I'm not making that up.

Fortunately I was saved the small embarrassment because it was loud so my cousin asked me to repeat it to which I just said that I didn't have a favorite.

The Yankees were playing that night but I reluctantly watched the WWE with my cousins. It didn't take long for me to be wowed by the show.

The US Title was being brought back and tonight was the semi-finals of the tournament, and my opinion of the WWE changed drastically when I saw Chris Benoit and Matt Hardy go at it for a spot in the finals that showed me the athleticism these warriors bring and just how entertaining it can be.

Chris Benoit quickly became my favorite wrestler, maybe not as funny or charismatic as someone like Chris Jericho or Christian but an amazing technical wrestler and always left it all in the ring. For those who completely mock the business, see the moment that Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero share in the ring at the age of Wrestlemania 20, great friends and each now the king of their respective shows after well over a decade for each dedicated to grueling competition and tell me how fake that seemed.

Just over three years later, both men were dead and I was no longer watching WWE. Part of it was the storylines feeling stale but a lot of it was because of these two men. Guerrero died November 18th, 2005 at the age of 38 to heart failure that many feel was contributed by steroid use. Storylines followed with Eddie's wife, Vicky, that seemed in bad taste. Perhaps I got a little too sensitive about a man I loved to watch but wrestling just wasn't the same for me at all after this.

Benoit lost his mind after years of mistreating his body, murdered his wife and son in their home in Georgia just before taking his life before a PPV. He was 40 years old. These are the sad moments that The Wrestler brings back as Randy "the Ram" Robinson continues to kill his body as so many wrestlers have done before him in real life.

And why so little coverage? Is it because it is a fake sport? These men put themselves in harms way every day. Virtually every day involves travel and a house show, match after match, no off-season unless you count the week they get off for Christmas as an off-season. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero are hardly alone as far being used by the business, hurt by the business, and even dying from the business. You could go on and on about the professional wrestlers that have died before the age of 50 from health problems.

Maybe someday I will back following the WWE. I saw some amazing wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H and there are many more to come. There were many amazing memories and the memorable matches and moments will keep going, but I have moved on for now.

But thanks to the creative genius of director Darren Aronofsky, writer Robert Siegel and many others, for 115 minutes I was able to relive the great moments watching the sport and remember the sacrifices that are made even in the "fake sport."

For those of you looking to relive your memories, create new ones, or just looking for top notch entertainment, rent The Wrestler on DVD April 21st if you cannot still see it in theaters. I have already pre-ordered it and am counting down the days till I see Randy "the Ram" Robinson jump off the top turnbuckle once again. I hope for the many of you that haven't seen it yet will feel the same.