September 8, 2008

Venice and Toronto. The Wrestler.

The Wrestler First order of business: "In the first major buy of the Toronto International Film Festival, Fox Searchlight won an intense all-night bidding war for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which days before had won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Fest. Searchlight acquired US rights for about $4 million." Variety's Anne Thompson has details.

Scott Foundas "had the chance to see Aronofsky's film earlier this summer during the selection screenings for the New York Film Festival (where it will be the closing-night gala on October 12) and again last week in LA, in a finished version that included the original song Bruce Springsteen has written for the end credits.... Aronofsky's film is no more just about wrestling than There Will Be Blood (the last American movie about which I felt this much enthusiasm) was a user's guide to oil drilling. Or, on second thought, maybe The Wrestler is all about wrestling - provided you take that to mean both the sport itself as well as what goes on outside the colored ropes, when the conquering hero returns to his dressing room and begins to grapple with those slippery questions of identity, self-worth and mortality that weigh heavy upon all men's souls."

Updated through 9/12.

"All praise to [Mickey Rourke], and to Darren Aronofsky for casting the actor and directing him to turn a standard fiction into quirky, coherent behavior," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "But the movie itself is pretty bad. My own anticipation sank with the opening credits: 'Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood." That list spelled out the plot: damaged veteran, middle-age girlfriend, young daughter. The Wrestler never rose above fight-movie bromides, never disspelled my gloom."

"Employing repeat handheld following shots, Aronofsky subtly and skillfully imagines the life and times of Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke), a wrestler 20 years past his prime, living in a trailer park who still performs body blows in small arenas for a few bucks at a time," writes Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE. "While the backstage antics of the professional wrestlers planning for their bouts are as funny as they are revealing, Aronofsky credibly stages the fights, which are both amusing and grotesquely violent.... We've seen much of this before - once renegade, now over-the-hill protagonist tries to reconcile with his past and present (there's one effective, direct nod to Raging Bull). But in its evocative depressed New Jersey milieu and Rourke's sad tour-de-force performance as a man literally bloodied and beaten down, The Wrestler is a strong and intimate work that should go far."

"So what's The Wrestler about?" Eugenio Renzi opens a discussion before closing the Cahiers du cinéma Venice journal, noting, "The film pleased the critics as much as the public. It is both a popular film and an auteur film."

Alison Willmore rounds up more reviews and linkage.

Updates, 9/9: "Many have already written about the parallels between Mickey Rourke and the swaggering, scarred wrestler he plays - early success, fame and notoriety, a series of mis-steps and mistakes taking it all away bit by bit as the years advanced - and the charge Rourke's own rise and fall offers a filmmaker like Aronofsky looking to explore ruin and redemption." James Rocchi at Cinematical: "But don't believe the hype - or, more importantly, look past it; if a complicated, messy personal life were all it took to deliver a great performance, Paris Hilton and OJ Simpson would have more Oscars than Katharine Hepburn. Rourke's work as Randy is physical, invested, powerful and sprawling - but it's also quiet, sad and hauntingly wounded, too.... The Wrestler is one of the most grimly exciting, magnetically repellent movies we've had in a long time; it's flat-out one of the best American movies of 2008."

"[I]t would be easy to imagine The Wrestler playing on the Hallmark Channel," writes Jim Emerson. "All they'd have to do is letterbox it, bleep some words and pixellate some nipples. You might have liked it better when it was called... Tender Mercies, or Atlantic City or [your title here]."

"All in all, a fine movie, and so what if Wallace Beery played pretty much the same part in 1931's The Champ?" asks the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "He won an Oscar doing it, and what Rourke does here is worthy of awards as well. I never thought I'd type those words, but time and movies are funny things."

"[T]his movie has its milieu down cold," notes Noel Murray at the AV Club, "from the under-filled small-town arenas that host the after-market wrestling circuit to the upbeat 80s metal and seedy strip clubs that form the foundations of the hero's habitat."

Update, 9/10: Online listening tip. James Rocchi talks with Aronofsky for Cinematical.

Online viewing tip. Variety's Anne Thompson has a good talk with Aronofsky, too.

Updates, 9/12: "Compared to Aronofsky's past work, The Wrestler is normal incarnate, trading in the symmetrical, controlled rigor of the filmmaker's last two films for a semi-convincing handheld, gritty-blue lower-class aesthetic, and lets Rourke reap in the pathos of a character who is so good-hearted and warm it is hard to believe his dead-beat reputation," writes Daniel Kasman in the Auteurs' Notebook. "Solid, earnest, and of some interest, Aronofsky's film nevertheless risks nothing other than the accusation of industrial safety; but if this is what a film compromised to make a bid for a more complex and personal work looks like, there really is little to object to."

Geoffrey Macnab profiles Rourke for the Independent.

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Posted by dwhudson at September 8, 2008 12:22 PM