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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Wrestler



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#1 of 1 Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted April 30 2009 - 03:24 PM

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The Wrestler (Blu-ray)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Year: 2008
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rating: R
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.99

Release Date: April 21, 2009
Review Date: April 30, 2009


The Film

4/5

Buried deep within Barry Blaustein’s affectionately moving tribute to the world of professional wrestling Beyond the Mat came the sad story of former superstar Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Once a top attraction in various wrestling conferences in the 1980s, the segment on Roberts focused on a broken man, a recovering drug addict living alone in a trailer, alienated from his daughter, and picking up regional wrestling gigs in an attempt to eek out a living and remember however faintly the long ago cheers of thousands as he practiced his art in the ring. I couldn’t help but remember Jake Roberts as I watched Darren Aronofsky’s award winning film The Wrestler. The protagonist’s story in this saga of a man long past his prime unable to leave the cheers behind has unmistakable parallels to the life of this unhappy real man. Perhaps the story being recounted here is much more universal than most people might ever dream.

After conquering the world of professional wrestling in the 1980s, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) finds himself twenty years later making a few hundred dollars a pop headlining local wrestling promotions in various New Jersey locales on the weekends. For this small amount of money, he’s expected to take the same kinds of fierce beatings and accomplish the same kinds of spine crushing moves that men decades younger have a hard time sustaining. After an extremely punishing no holds barred match, Randy suffers a heart attack. Finally facing his mortality after years of abusing his body with all manner of pain killers and performance enhancing drugs, Randy tries to forge a new life for himself with his long estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and a local stripper (Marisa Tomei) he’s particularly sweet on. Like everything else in his life, however, Randy has a battle on his hands if he’s to come out a winner.

Robert Siegel’s masterful screenplay has all of the details of professional wrestling captured to perfection, and director Darren Aronofsky finds ways of capitalizing on the sweaty arenas showing us up close the battered gladiators who backstage share a brotherhood that’s tenderly moving. The ring work with Robinson engaging in several matches has a rawness that’s alternately captivating and repulsive. No matter how staged the matches may be or how determined in advance the outcomes are, the blows are real, the blood is real, the pain is real. The film never for one second allows us to forget that.

And Aronofsky approaches several scenes with a unique sense of style. We see Robinson’s rise to the top in a montage of posters and newspaper articles that gets the film off to a bracing start. By the time we get to his second match in the film (some twenty years after his heyday), Aronofsky shows us the bloody remnants of the combatants’ bodies and then we go backwards to see how they got that way. Later in the film, when Randy has retired from the ring and is about to make his debut as a deli counter worker, his walk to the counter is filmed as if he were still coming from the dressing room on his way to fight for a championship. Combined with a very touching interlude as he and his daughter try to reestablish some kind of connection by walking to an amusement park, Aronofsky manages to find an excellent balance between the private and professional sides of this bowed but not broken man.

Despite a haphazard film career, Mickey Rourke has always risen to the challenge of good material, and he certainly makes every second count in this movie as the rather gentle giant Randy Robinson. His face and body etched with a lifetime of professional mayhem, Rourke exudes both tenderness and toughness as he attempts to cope with the rotten eggs life seems to toss his way. As the aging stripper tentatively reaching out for her own cure for loneliness, Marisa Tomei gives a fearless performance of skill and daring. Evan Rachel Wood gets fewer chances to strut her stuff as the bitter abandoned daughter, but she manages to find truth in her few scenes that’s worthy of the pathos of her situation.


Video Quality

4/5

The film is presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The moderately grainy image recreates the rawness and grit of the world it’s portraying beautifully with natural color and accurate flesh tones. Blacks are incredibly inky, the letterbox bars easily blending into the darkness. However, details are sometimes lost in the shadows despite the image’s overall sharpness. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio Quality

4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix certainly uses the surrounds to optimum advantage during the wrestling matches as the yowling crowd seems ever-present, but it misses other opportunities for surround ambiance at other times during the film, particularly in the strip club scenes and the grocery store.


Special Features

2.5/5

“Within the Ring” is a comprehensive look at the making of the movie with interviews featuring the director, several producers, the production designer, the stunt coordinator, the film editor, the cinematographer, co-star Even Rachel Wood, the screenwriter, Rourke’s stunt double, other wrestlers featured as Randy’s adversaries, and the film’s composer. It lasts 42 ¾ minutes and is in 480p.

“Wrestler Round Table” gathers professional wrestlers Roddy Piper, Dallas Page, Brutus Beefcake, Greg Valentine, and Lex Lugar at a table to be interviewed by moderator Damon Andrews who asks the men intelligent questions not only about their reactions to the movie but also about the highs and lows of their own careers. This lasts 25 minutes in 480p.

“The Wrestler” Music Video features this year’s Golden Globe-winner for Best Song sung by its composer Bruce Springsteen in a 4-minute music video presented in 480i.

The disc offers trailers for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Slumdog Millionaire, Notorious, and the CD of Working on a Dream. The trailer for The Wrestler is not present.

Disc two in the set offers a digital copy of the film and instructions inside the case for installation on PC and Mac devices.


In Conclusion

4/5 (not an average)

An outstanding character study blessed by fantastic performances and directed with a flair that captures the power and pain of professional wrestling both inside and outside the ring, The Wrestler is unquestionably a film worth seeing.



Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC