Katz Files: A Smartfan Looks at The Wrestler

The Katz Files – Arnie Katz

A Smartfan Looks at The Wrestler!!

The Kingfish Arnie Katz spent Friday evening watching “The Wrestler” Today he shares his thoughts with the vast OWW audience.

My wife Joyce and I, in company with a large number of friends who have absolutely no interest in pro wrestling, saw The Wrestler on Friday night. Those around me seemed to like it, despite their aversion to the subject, but for me, it was a memorable night at the movies. It isn’t every day that you see the best damn wrestling movie ever made.

The Wrestler makes No Holds Barred look like a gaudy pile of bogus crap. The Wrestler is not perfect – it’s a “worse case scenario — but its authentic feel and serious intent lift it far above all previous efforts.

A smart wrestling fan is a skeptic, almost by definition. Years of watching wrestling storylines makes the veteran fan distrust his eyes and ears. So much of pro wrestling is otherwise than it seems.

All right, maybe I’m a bit more of a skeptic than even most smart fans. It wasn’t until 1996 that I provisionally accepted the possibility that Andy Kaufman is really dead.

Accordingly, I was reluctant about seeing The Wrestler. I heard so much praise, even from chronic curmudgeons like Dave Meltzer. If Dave likes something about pro wrestling and it isn’t Japanese, I have to take notice.

Very few movies have satisfied such high expectations. The Wrestler definitely hit the mark. Mickey Roarke, as the washed up former mat star, has already won the “Best Actor” Golden Globe Award and he deserves consideration for all the other such honors, up to and including the Oscar, for a sensitive and human portrayal.

This is in no sense a movie about every wrestler or some kind of broad-brush picture of all of Professional Wrestling. It is the story of a man who has tasted fame, if not fortune. The movie jumped forward 20 years after Randy “The Ram” Robinson had his biggest night. He has found a marginal existence in the Indies, but he is beset by all of the pro wrestling maladies, including drug abuse and estrangement form his family.

The portrayal of pro wrestling is surprisingly accurate. The matches are planned and choreographed, but the danger and damage are all too real. Director Darren Aronofsky bangs home the reality of a match without erecting a phony “wrestling is real” structure.” This is not a rise-to-the-title boxing story with hammerlocks substituted for haymakers; it is about a man whose life reaches several personal and professional crises at the same time and how he copes with it.

Occasionally, the story does get a little heavy-handed. The scene in which The Ram works a fan fest and sits at an empty table is probably not much like the reality for a wrestler who was a major national star. Mostly, though, this is grimly authentic; it has the feel of a documentary.

I’ve never recommended a wrestling movie to anyone for any reason. I unhesitatingly recommend The Wrestler.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another installment of the Internet’s fastest-rising daily wrestling column. I hope you’ll come back then – and, please, bring your friends.

— Arnie Katz
Executive Editor
[email protected]
(1/19/09)