The Wrestler (2008)

July 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

American writer Charles Bukowski said he preferred spending time with broken people — he found them much more interesting. So far, director Darren Aronofsky has demonstrated his own fascination with broken people, though I admit Requiem for a Dream (2000) left me cold. The film had some great performances, but felt heavy-handed and overly simplistic, so that the final statement doesn’t amount to much more than the title, little more than “Well, no point in having a dream.” It’s an artistic statement that isn’t to be found in a lot of more commercial films, but still a sentiment that can probably be found in a lot of high school poetry.  

The Wrestler is a very different film. It avoids telling the story of a broken man in quite so direct and heavy-handed a fashion, with a great central performance from Mickey Rourke. He appears to have been somehow destined for this part, given that he acted, left acting to test himself (as he puts it), in the ring for a period of time, and appears to have gone through some immensely difficult experiences, requiring reconstructive surgery for his face at one point. In other words, as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, he’s both an actor and someone that can invest the role with personal experience, for the performance of a lifetime. The film borrows a documentary feel for some scenes, as we follow Randy down corridors, through the staff room and into the deli where he works for a little extra cash, in a scene that parallels his odd birth (and rebirth) over and over again down aisles into the stadiums that provide the only real love he receives in the  form of audience screams, cheers and chants. There may be something false about it, but at least it feels to him it’s the only unadulterated appreciation he gets. Marisa Tomei is also excellent as a potential love interest for Randy. A scene in a bar demonstrates these characters are getting on  a little, given that they declare their love for eighties rock, and that the nineties sucked (and of course, it’s nearly ten years since the nineties). But though it’s believable, the relationship doesn’t peak in interest until near the end, when Randy needs to start making some choices.  

Just as important as the performances, director Aronofsky takes more time with one character (unlike Requiem, which covers multiple characters), and fleshes out Robinson as a character with limited means, but still in search of a happier life and the dignity he knows he deserves. The wrestling scenes can be hard to watch for all the blood, but I think it’s actually the scenes at the deli that flesh out the character a lot more, showing how happy and even playful he is in the right set of circumstances, and how miserable when life seems to conspire against him, or when he knows he has tripped himself up. By the time he jams a thumb in the meat-cutter, he’s a fully fleshed out character who prefers a sharp  dose of real pain to the dull ache he knows his life has become. I hope Aronofsky continues to do a thorough job of establishing the dignity his characters could have before he takes it away — it makes all the difference in terms of involving the viewer. The final shot of The Wrestler is one that stayed in my head for days, as did the rest of the film.

The Lonely Man (1957)

July 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

A remarkably under-appreciated Western — it isn’t even in my handy-dandy 1570 page movie guide — I was originally attracted to this film for the simplicity of the title as well as the cast. It features Jack Palance as a reformed gunfighter and Anthony Perkins as his son.  Palance plays Jacob Wade, interested to start a new life with a son he didn’t raise, provided former enemies will stay away, and a town somewhere will actually let them stay.  Palance is both understated and excellent, and Anthony Perkins so mellow as his bitter, abandoned son it seemed a little like he was just proving he’d memorized his lines. But in a stark, beautifully shot, black and white film understated performances work better than overblown ones so as not to distract from a quiet, simple and beautifully told story.

There’s even a fairly obvious, beautiful but elusive symbol for happiness quite literally charging through the film infrequently, along with great shots of actors (or possibly stunt people) galloping at full-speed through the landscape with such rousing music it made me want to buy a flippin’ horse.

Watch Jacob Wade make contact with his son again here. The movement Perkins brings to the scene is so languid it manages to be slightly puzzling even as it suggests he’s drunk, and depressed. And the music isn’t overdone — it registers with the viewer, but declines to do anything more than remain mournful, even after the one moment of action in the scene.

I’ve been given the impression a lot of Westerns were produced in the fifties, but this one deserves to be among those remembered — it may have the kind of closure you predicted from the early moments, but it’s still a remarkably satisfying and well-crafted film. Unforgiven (1992) with Clint Eastwood won four Academy Awards, telling the story of a man who leaves a peaceful life of retirement to become a gunslinger again, for reasons that don’t seem terribly valid by the end of the film. The Lonely Man got there first, though it tells the story the other way around. It’s a film that deserves better than to be discontinued on DVD.

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