“The Wrestler” Runs Rings Around “The Reader”

I've only seen two of this year's Academy Award-winning films, but thought one far surpassed the other in every conceivable way.

The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, held me in a Full Nelson grip throughout. The story of a down-and-out wrestler and his stripper girlfriend was, in a word, riveting. The settings, photography, dialogue and pacing beautifully captured the quiet air of desperation faced by the lead characters. And, Rourke literally became his character: Randy the Ram, a washed up pro wrestling superstar beset by drug addiction, nagging pain and an ailing heart. Tomei is also brilliant in her role as the whore with a heart of gold. The_wrestler_mickey_rourke

I've never liked wrestling and wouldn't waste my time watching one of their bogus matches on TV, but I can't say enough about this flick. It reinforced my belief that moviemakers really can create magic. And, Rourke was robbed. He deserved the Oscar. The judges deserve to be slammed by a collective Ram Jam.

Now, The Reader. I found this flick to be a pale imitation to The Wrestler. The plot was ponderous, plodding and predictable. And I, for one, have seen a lifetime's worth of Holocaust-themed movies and don't need yet another one. Ms. Winslet's accolades also surprised me. I didn't find her acting or her character particularly compelling or engrossing. If anything, Ralph Fiennes ran rings around Ms. Winslet from a performance standpoint.

I'm fascinated by Hollywood image and reputation discussions. The Reader was heralded as a strong best picture candidate and Ms. Winslet trotted out as a sure thing for best actress. Rourke's performance was also ballyhooed, but positioned as a "comeback" effort (as if that should handicap it in some way). And, The Wrestler wasn't considered to be on the same plane as Slumdog, The Reader and others.

As we know, beauty is most assuredly in the eye of the beholder. But, Mickey Rourke's battered, bloodied and beaten down wrestler got to me. I thought it was one of the most intense screen performances I've seen in a long, long time.

5 thoughts on ““The Wrestler” Runs Rings Around “The Reader”

  1. Thanks for the post, Sam. That scene actually reminded me of the classic “Goodfellas” sequence in which Ray Liotta’s character entered the nightclub through the kitchen. Fascinating cinematography technique.

  2. I can verify that The Wrestler was actually quite authentic as a representation of what life can be like on the indy wrestling scene. I especially liked the little moments…Randy pretending he was walking backstage at a big wrestling event as he walked through the curtain to his job at the meat counter. This actually perfectly mimicked a taping technique the WWE used to use for their main event marquee matches…

  3. I haven’t seen either of these flicks, but have to say they both simply must be better than the most praised movie of the year, and best picture winner – Slumdog Millionaire. While the flick has a generally interesting concept and a beautiful backdrop, it is dragged on for too long and then completely destroyed by a painfully contrived feel-good ending and mediocre at best performances by the adult actors (the kids were surprisingly good). However, in a world plagued by rising unemployment, massive loss of wealth and general unease, it is no surprise that Hollywood is applauding this “modern-day fairytale” regardless of the true quality of the film. Boyle was far better in his Trainspotting days.

  4. I agree that The Wrestler was a great film, but Penn was certainly deserving of the Oscar for his role in MILK. I highly recommend you put this at the top of your list of movies to see.