‘Wrestler’ off to a good start

Posted by · 4:31 pm · September 4th, 2008

Now this is good news. Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” bows at Venice tomorrow, but the trades have put up their reviews from Toronto … and they’re mighty positive.

Todd McCarthy and the Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Farber both give credence to those Best Actor rumours for Mickey Rourke. Farber calls the performance the best of his career, while McCarthy goes further, declaring it one of the great performances, period.

On another note, I’m pleased to see that both critics confirm a hunch I had that Marisa Tomei — a personal favourite — would deliver too.

McCarthy raves:

Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. An elemental story simply and brilliantly told, Darren Aronofsky’s fourth feature is a winner from every possible angle.

Rourke is simply staggering as Ram. The camera is rarely off him, and one doesn’t want it to be, so entirely does he express the full life of this man with his every word and gesture … As vibrant — and as naked — as she was in last year’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” Tomei is in top, emotionally forthright form as she charts a life passage similar to Ram’s, if much less extreme.

Farber has a few more qualms about the film itself, but is generally won over:

Although the film teeters on the brink of sentimentality, it never topples into the slush, and this is a tribute to the rigorous direction as well as the astringent performances. Still, there are mawkish moments …  “Wrestler” oscillates between hard-edged naturalism and stock melodrama but ends on an understated note of melancholy that seems just right.

Rourke dispenses with all vanity to plumb the depths of this well-meaning but severely damaged man. Tomei delivers one of her most arresting performances, again without any trace of vanity. Wood’s part is smaller, but she captures the scalding anger of a woman neglected for most of her life. The supporting players add to the authenticity of the atmosphere. That authenticity is the hallmark of the production, with vivid cinematography and set design.

I do hope this turns out to be the consensus. It’s difficult to overestimate how much I want everyone involved with this film to succeed.

As John pointed out the other day, Rourke is way overdue for reappraisal as an actor. If the critical love-in for him continues in this vein, you have to rate his chances for one of those late-career comeback nods the Academy sometimes likes to give out, a la Nick Nolte and Peter Fonda.

Tomei is consistently underappreciated too — the complete lack of recognition for her dynamite turn in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” was, for me, one of the biggest head-scratchers of last year’s awards season. Could a third Best Supporting Actress nomination be on the cards this year?

Finally, Aronofsky deserves a break after the unfair pounding he took for his beautiful, fearless and widely misunderstood “The Fountain.” If this review is any indication, “The Wrestler” should face a warmer welcome.

→ 25 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

25 responses so far

  • 1 9-04-2008 at 4:33 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    Variety’s is up too: “Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances. “

  • 2 9-04-2008 at 4:37 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks Rob — they must have put that up while I was posting. Will update accordingly.

  • 3 9-04-2008 at 5:12 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I can’t wait for this movie. Hopefully what they say is true, and hopefully it will find a distributor so that we can actually see it.

  • 4 9-04-2008 at 5:19 pm

    Joel said...

    Well, apparently, it’s good. I’ll be seeing this whenever it comes out. As in, opening night. This is coupled with the quote Rob found.

    If Rourke’s that good, Best Actor 2009? Or 2010? What?

  • 5 9-04-2008 at 5:28 pm

    Mr. F said...

    if he is that good, he’ll be a contender this year.

  • 6 9-04-2008 at 6:25 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    I assumed based on the raves SOMEONE will pick it up and rush it out this year, but is it possible they could go the “Away From Her” route and try for next year, considering this too competitive a year?

  • 7 9-04-2008 at 6:28 pm

    Bing147 said...

    The flat out raves are great for him. Also drawing them is Jeff Goldblum for Adam Ressurected, with Variety calling it a tour de force and Cinematical saying they’ve never seen anything like it on the screen. I think both find a place in this awards season. Until now, Actor wasn’t THAT crowded. I mean, Langella/Mortenson/Goldblum/Rourke/Penn could easily be your 5, DiCaprio doesn’t have the best part in either of his films, Foxx’s film sounds to be trying too hard, Pitt they just don’t seem to like much nowadays, there are holes in actor that can yet be plugged.

  • 8 9-04-2008 at 6:29 pm

    Roman said...

    Ah, this pleases me a lot. For a moment it seemed like Aronofsky was compromising and it was a make-up project (I knew it was an indy film but the subject matter seemed questionable – that coupled with the fact his next movie was called “The Fighter” – had me worried). Great to hear that is not.

  • 9 9-04-2008 at 6:41 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    It IS great that the film seems to be quality, but it’s again a frustrating-yet-typical case of an extremely innovative auteur not getting recognized until they deliver something that fits into an easy box.

  • 10 9-04-2008 at 7:05 pm

    Michelle said...

    Yes…and Evan Rachel Wood…although you cut off the review before her name.
    I know she doesn’t conform to Hollywood standards but she is a hell of an actress.

  • 11 9-04-2008 at 11:46 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Agreed, Michelle — I didn’t mean to slight her.

    Wood knocked me out in Down in the Valley.

  • 12 9-05-2008 at 12:35 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s it, I’m on board for a Mickey Rourke nod.

  • 13 9-05-2008 at 1:02 am

    The InSneider said...

    i beat ya to it, kris.


  • 14 9-05-2008 at 1:14 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Well, if we’re getting competitive about it, I put him in my five last month, thought admittedly that was more wishful thinking than anything else :)

    I’m very happy about this.

  • 15 9-05-2008 at 1:16 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bah! Both of you know I was all over this a month ago. Welcome to the wagon. ;)

  • 16 9-05-2008 at 2:51 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    And yet another anticipated film that fully delivers…TDK is now dead for the BP race.

  • 17 9-05-2008 at 8:12 am

    mike said...

    Can’t wait to see this film. I am hoping I can get tickets for the NY FF screening this weekend…

  • 18 9-05-2008 at 6:20 pm

    JEFF SNEIDER said...

    I don’t have archives like yours but I know I was always anti-Foxx and Mortensen. Can’t believe the latter got nommed last year for Eastern Promises. And Joe Wright sucks and The Soloist sounds like sentimental Oscar bait and while I’m sure Foxx will be good, I don’t see him going the distance, not in a year like this with Pitt, Leo, Jenkins, Penn, Langella, Clint, and yes, even perhaps Will Smith.

  • 19 9-05-2008 at 7:11 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    Oh Jeff, you and your charming fratboy takes on films. Shouting “I told you about this!” about uninformed hunches when they occasionally end up happening and touting your opinions as fact, woot!

    While I may find Wright’s direction to not be quite as breathtaking as he seems to think it is, he’s unquestionably talented and saying he “sucks” is incredibly simplistic, dismissive and lowers the bar for film discussion.

    Mortensen absolutely deserved his nomination last year, and I have a feeling if he and/or Pitt don’t make it in this year, it’s because there’s a whole lot of showy stuff coming Oscar’s way this year, and more subdued stuff might not make its way in.

    I don’t know for sure, but Foxx’s role/performance sounds like it’s going to be exactly the kind of Oscar bait that irritates me, and I hope, hope the Academy recognizes it as such. As someone’s commented before, it seems to be the sort of role “Soloist” co-star Downey Jr. eviscerated in “Tropic Thunder.”

  • 20 9-05-2008 at 7:12 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    Keep in mind, I say all that with love. I just would love to see the arrogance levels in prognostication go in the other direction…

  • 21 9-05-2008 at 9:01 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    I am confident I will get tickets for this as well as THE CHANGELING and CHE, as I will line up in front of Avery Fisher Hall hours before the 12:00 noon ticket-selling launch. I know what you thought of THE FOUNTAIN, and I likewise had it as the best film of 2006, so Mr. Aronofsky’s next project has been gleefully anticipated.

  • 22 9-05-2008 at 9:57 pm

    Rob Scheer said...

    I’ll see you there, Sam… shooting for the same tickets as you though, so I’ll consider you a nemesis of sorts.

  • 23 9-07-2008 at 3:55 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    Alas Rob, I failed. Apparently a large number of tickets are offered to Lincoln Center members first, leaving few chances for those on line. I am foolish not to be a member, as I do attend a large number of operas there over the fall season.
    Lucille and I did get tickets for THE CLASS and THE CHANGELING though, even though we failed with CHE and THE WRESTLER.
    How did you do?