With millions and millions of viewers tuning in every week, wrestling entertainment is ingrained in our culture and a memory or pastime in most of our lives. But what happens to the superstars when the cameras and spotlights no longer smile down upon them?

Twenty years ago, Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was an alpha dog in the world of wrestling. He was one of the good guys everyone could look up to and he finished off all his opponents with a “Ram Jam” from the top ropes. Now, crowds of a hundred chant his name as he beats idolizing unknowns in the amateur ring and sits among the other aged athletes at barely attended autograph sessions. A heart attack brought on by decades of abusing his body causes him to reevaluate what’s important in his life. As a result, he attempts to transcend his business-only relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and tries to mend his relationship with his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood).

Anyone who raised a wrestler to the status of hero when they were young will appreciate this moving behind-the-curtain look at the difficult choices and hardships these men face. Some parts are hard to watch even though we’ve seen the performance side of it countless times. A well-written tragic script effectively pulls and drags at your heartstrings without feeling exaggerated or unreal. The downside is you may never look at a wrestling match as carefree again.

Rourke turns in a career performance. The Oscar buzz is already swirling around this picture and the attention is well earned. Rourke infuses “The Ram” with the charisma, energy and heart that these athletes addicted to the roar of the crowd bring to the show. On the flipside, he plays the beaten man trying to find his way to heart-wrenching perfection. Tomei also brings her A-game, portraying a woman past her prime in an industry that repels reality and values youth.

Director Darren Aronofsky doesn’t attach his usual bells and whistles to the movie’s appearance; instead, he lets the story speak for itself through drained colours and an unpolished look. Any other choice would have detracted from the chronicle.

It would be simple to continue singing the The Wrestler‘s praises but you need to see it for yourself to realize its impact.

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