Darren Aronofsky presents 2008's The Wrestler, a tale of riches-to-rags in spandex and steroids. Probably one of the more honest looks that Hollywood has given professional wrestling, The Wrestler aspires to lofty heights, and occasionally rises to the challenge it sets for itself. However, the end result, after all the blood, tears, sweat and thumbtacks, is surprisingly hollow.
Mickey Rourke stars as Randy "the Ram" Robinson, a wrestling star from the 80s boom, who now works a minimum wage job while doing the independent circuit on weekends. He's held in high regard by wrestling fans and other wrestlers, but is looked down on by everyone else: his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) wants nothing to do with him; his boss (Todd Barry) constantly mocks and berates his former career. The closest thing Randy has to a friend is a stripper named Pam, with the stage name "Cassidy" (Marisa Tomei), who sees Randy as nothing more than a customer.
Randy (real name Robin Ramzinski) accepts an invitation to wrestle the Ayatollah (Ernest Miller) on the 20th anniversary of their first bout, which had sold out Madison Square Garden. In preparation for the rematch, Randy wrestles a hardcore match (featuring staples, barbed wire, thumbtacks and lots of blood). After the show, Randy passes out - he's told he suffered a heart attack, a combination of age and his drug habits catching up with him. Faced with his mortality, Randy backs out of the rematch, and life starts improving for him. He spends more time with his daughter, who is glad to have her father back; Pam warms to him; and since he doesn't have to wrestle weekends, he can take a slightly better job.
But while you can take the man out of the ring, you can't take the ring out of the man.
At times, the film feels like a documentary - Aronofsky uses long tracking shots behind Randy as he heads to the ring, or the locker room, or the deli at his supermarket. The locker room scenes with real-life wrestlers are of particular note; seeing them ad lib their lines as they go over their moves gives a rare, inside look at this strange world of concealed razor blades and choreographed combat.