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Ram Jam
by Asa Butcher
2009-02-18 09:10:22
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The Wrestler
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
2008, Wild Bunch

Ram Jam, in this context, does not refer to the 1970's rock band famous for their song "Black Betty" nor is it connected to impregnating sheep, it is the signature wrestling move of the legendary Randy “The Ram” Robinson in the film The Wrestler. Randy may be an old broken down piece of meat, but when he climbs those ropes, gradually finds his balance at the top, slaps his elbows and launches himself into the air, your breath catches in your throat and goosebumps run up your arms as you realise that Mickey Rourke is life imitating art before your eyes.

Rewind a decade or so and my memory recalls one secretive teenage night as I watched Mickey Rourke do “naughty” things with Kim Basinger in Nine 1/2 Weeks, yet it seems as though that man was another actor entirely when compared alongside Rourke's Randy. If I had to sum up the difference in two words then I would simply say “the eyes”; when you look into the Ram's weathered eyes you see Rourke's soul and you are helplessly drawn into one of the best wrestling movies of the decade... okay, century!

I know, I know... a film about wrestling, oh please! However, just like my review of The Deer Hunter said that the film is about relationships and not Vietnam, The Wrestler is about one man coming to terms with the fact that he is decades past his prime and his body can no longer do what he loves and also the only thing he knows how. My first reaction was that this would be like watching the proverbial/cliché car crash in slow motion, but the film manages to transcend all cliché, even the sub-plot of Randy's attempt to repair his relationship with his daughter manages to avoid the road well-travelled.

Bizarrely, for a sport that is renowned for being fake it is incredible that a film about wrestling feels so real. It is refreshing for the main character to be so likeable and not transformed into a figure of mockery; he is respected by his peers and loved by all ages of fans, yet as soon as he leaves the ring he is alone in the world, living in a battered trailer, working a soul-destroying job in a supermarket and spending most of his time in a local strip club chatting with Cassidy/Pam (Marisa Tomei), one of the strippers.

I was amazed to discover that Marisa Tomei is the same actress that stole the film My Cousin Vinny with Joe Pesci back in 1992 and it seems as though time has been better to her body than Mickey Rourke's. In fact, we get to see quite a lot of Tomei's body as she lap dances and pole dances in a number of her scenes, and it made me wonder how many actresses have been almost nude for a whole film and still deservedly managed to receive a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards and a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes!

Oscar talk is rampant this week and having now seen The Wrestler I understand just why so many people are asking why the Academy has seemingly snubbed the film. Rourke has finally managed his first ever nomination and Tomei has also received one, but that is it. No nomination for Best Picture and – for this I am speechless – Bruce Springsteen's song “The Wrestler”, which won the  Golden Globe for Best Original Song, has been completely over-looked.

Rumours suggest that both Bruce Springsteen and Mickey Rourke waived their fees for The Wrestler, and Axl Rose donated the use of Guns 'n' Roses' "Sweet Child O'Mine" free of charge for the final match (Rourke used the song for his entrances during his own boxing career), and the entire budget is estimated at a piffling $7,000,000 – compare that to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that cost an estimated $150,000,000.

Granted, there are considerably less special effects in The Wrestler, but can you imagine Brad Pitt really cutting his forehead with a razor for added realism in a scene? Following that scene, Randy is enjoying a lap dance from Cassidy when the wound opens and begins bleeding again to which she exclaims, “I thought all that stuff was fake!” So did I, but it seems that even the fake stuff can hurt you, as shown in one scene with retired wrestlers in wheelchairs, urinating into bags and, in Randy's case, ruing the overuse of steroids. 

A good measure of the realism comes from the first-hand perspective to which the audience are treated through hand-held cameras literally following Randy as he lives his life. Director Darren Aronofsky and cinematographer Maryse Alberti have made excellent work of Robert D. Siegel's screenplay. However, credit must go to Afa Anoa'i, a former professional wrestler who was hired to train Rourke for his role and, I assume, choreograph the wrestling scenes. The scenes are nothing short of breathtaking and, bizarrely, make something that is “fake” look highly realistic – the staple gun is particularly nasty.

The Wrestler should have had far more nominations than it actually received, but at least this low budget film was made and allowed Mickey Rourke to prove his metal once again. As I said at the very start, when Randy/Mickey climbs those ropes in preparation for the Ram Jam you can't help feel the raw emotion of it all and, perhaps symbolically, this week's Oscars Ceremony will be Rourke's opportunity to Ram Jam Hollywood... they deserve it just for overlooking The Boss and his touching song.

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edu2009-02-18 15:06:45
Excellent film, indeed. I don't get people raving about Mr. Button and forgetting about The Wrestler.

Asa2009-02-19 16:50:51
Mr Button is on my agenda for the next few days.

Kevin2009-02-22 14:43:16
Great film. Rourke should get an Oscar.

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