I hadn't paid a great deal of attention to the run-up to this flick, but I was aware of it - I'd seen the hype getting built up, Rourke all over the interview circuit, awards talk and so on ... but it still wasn't quite on my radar until the lads and I needed something to go and see at the cinema (especially as one of our intended flicks to see is currently not available due to technical difficulties, and another has one measily showing at half nine, which wasn't do-able).
Despite the annoying fizzle from the half-buggered-out speaker to the mid-right in the somewhat pokey theatre the film showed in, it was a bloody great film. It really was.
Rourke has certainly never done better, and it is most definitely the victory flag planted atop the mountain of his career comeback which has been developing over the past few years. I've not really seen much of Rourke's pre-boxing phase career, but quickly noticed him in several post-boxing phase flicks - such as Spun, Once Upon A Time In Mexico and of course Sin City.
Having seen Aronofsky's Requiem For A Dream (excellent, but gruelling by the end, and the best anti-drugs movie that should be - but isn't - shown in schools), I had an idea of what to expect from The Wrestler. Indeed it's at times a dark film about missed opportunities, faded career hopes, dreams and everything in between. It's about lost family, lost connections and even about mortality and our bodies failing us when we need them most.
In a really quick summary, it's like Rocky Balboa meets Requiem For A Dream ... Requiem For Rocky Balboa then. There's more flair and a feel for the dramatic (in this case, the wrestling scenes), but this is probably the more realistic tale of an old war horse battling onwards despite being long past his prime.
Balboa was that 'one in a million' story ... The Wrestler is far more down-to-earth, and far more in touch with the reality of what becomes of every other person in that million who didn't make it, who didn't have a winner's story. It sounds depressing, I'm sure - but it works.
You root for Rourke's "Ram", you suffer with him as he struggles to keep himself going, as he desperately tries to reconnect with those he has left behind, or those he wants to join with to start afresh.
The ending - and don't worry, thar be nay spoilers ahead - is almost annoyingly open. Almost. You can make up your own ending, the post-script if you will, but on screen we're left with Ram doing what he does best - what defines him, what is his entire world.
Rocky Balboa certainly pushes the popular buttons and provides aspiration and hope, and is also a great film, while The Wrestler gives you both of those, but with a dose of reality check, and a lot more post-viewing food for thought. Both movies do what they do wonderfully, and indeed they both star two resurrected war horses hitting back triumphantly after troubles, strife and obscurities.
It's only mid-January, but already this is a strong contender for the best film of 2009 for me.