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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Wrestler [Blu-ray]


(Darren Aronofsky, 2008)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Fox Searchlight and Wild Bunch & Protozoa Pictures

Video: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment



Region: 'A' locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:49:31.565

Disc Size: 32,682,055,771 bytes

Feature Size: 27,848,171,520 bytes

Average Bitrate: 33.90 Mbps

Chapters: 24

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 21st, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video






DTS-HD Master Audio English 3604 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3604 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 448 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 448 kbps



English, Spanish, none



• Within the Ring Making of Featurette with Pro Wrestlers & Filmmakers (42:43)

• Wrestler Round Table Featurette with Wrestling Hall of Famers (25:23)

• "The Wrestler" Music Video with Bruce Springsteen (03:59)

• Digital Copy Disc


Exclusive to Blu-ray:

• none



Description: Darren Aronofsky directs this searing drama about a past-his-prime wrestler who tries to regain his earlier fame. Mickey Rourke (ANGEL HEART, SIN CITY) continues a career revival of his own as the fighter, while Oscar winner Marisa Tomei (IN THE BEDROOM, MY COUSIN VINNY) and Evan Rachel Wood (THIRTEEN, DOWN IN THE VALLEY) co-star. Rourke is Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a one-time superstar of professional wrestling who's down on his luck, estranged from his teenage daughter (Wood) and clinging onto the remains of his career by appearing in brutally violent bouts that barely pay him enough to make the rent on his trailer park home. It soon becomes clear that his broken body is incapable of following through the determination of his plucky spirit and when he succumbs to a heart attack he finds himself at a crossroads where he must decide whether or not to continue his futile pursuit of celebrity or make amends with those that he has alienated.



After his somewhat ambitious flirtation with the science fiction genre in THE FOUNTAIN, director Aronofsky returns to Earth and back to the emotional human drama of his earlier REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. Having fallen from grace in his own professional life, Rourke delivers a towering performance as Robinson; a man whose career trajectory is so close to the actor's own, the film is given a staggering level of poignancy.





The Movie: 7

Like Robert Redford’s Electric Horseman, Randy “The Ram” Robinson is a man with his best years behind him – a long way behind him.  He was at the top of his game twenty years ago, but professional wrestling has taken its toll.  All the same this doesn't keep him from giving and taking a beating whenever he can get work, which is no longer for the big bucks.  (He lives in a trailer, and usually behind in his rent.)  Given what he feels he has to do to his body to keep it looking good, and the abuse he suffers in the ring, it is no wonder that his heart fails the Timex test.


After leaving the hospital with a foot-long scar from a heart bypass operation, Randy attempts to embrace a normal, if humdrum, life.  Feeling his mortality more exquisitely than in the ring, he tries to connect with his favorite lap dance stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) and his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), whose ball Randy has dropped once too often to hold out much promise for reconciliation.  Cassidy, while in her forties, still has the moves and the body to do her job, but she is also a single mom with two young ones at home – a job, unlike Randy, that she takes seriously.


Randy's heart attack certainly changes his perspective, if not his hopes and dreams.  This is true for all concerned here.  The damage Randy has done to himself and his daughter may be irrevocable.  And Cassidy has seen men like him before.



The Movie:


Image:   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were obtained directly from the Blu-ray disc.


The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


While this Blu-ray appears to be faithful to its theatrical presentation, this is not an image you'd want to take home to mother.  It seems to go out of its way to make certain we do not see the protagonist's life, or his life's work, as something colorful or even desirable.  “Ugly” is a word that is not far from the truth of it. We have the feeling that the cinematographer made use of no lighting assists, so realistic is the effect.  Night time shooting outdoors and in the strip club have very little shadow detail. Indoor scenes, like the locker room, delicatessen, strip club and in the ring are very high contrast, often with a peculiar pumped up color.  Again, I don’t think any of this is the “fault” of the transfer – but rather the considered artistic effect desired. So pervasive are these effects that questions of artifacts, enhancements or noise are irrelevant, though I wasn’t really aware of any problems in these areas. 














Audio & Music: 8/8

While the image may be murky, the audio certainly isn't.  At al times, we can tell exactly where we are with our eyes closed by attending to the ambiance: every wrestling venue has its unique signature, with audience noises all around us when the camera is in the ring.  The body blows, falls and crunches the wrestlers indulge in sound and like a whole lot of hurt. The music we hear in the stripper club has that familiar, fat, overblown, unfocused bass that makes you want to get wasted or spend money or both.  The dialogue, though just clear enough, is often barely audible through the din or, elsewhere, whispered in Rourke's inimitable style. 


Operations: 3

Like the Blu-ray of the new Notorious, Fox Searchlight has disabled the Top Menu function on the remote so, among other things, we have to toggle through previews like the old days.  We also must use either the chapter advance or the Pop-Up menu button to return to the menu if we’re in one of the extra features – none of which, by the way, have chapter stops, a huge oversight for the making-of featurette.





Extras: 5

Without an audio or BonusView-type commentary, behind-the-scenes or making of features are pretty much the province of the 42-minute “Within the Ring” which is sufficiently extensive to cover the necessary territory. The feature film is approached and shot as a quasi-documentary (whose hand-held camerawork, following Rourke over his shoulder I found a little triresome), so it is expected we should hear from those pro wrestlers without whose direct participation such a film could not have been made. Here are: King Kong Bundy, Tony Atlas, Lex Lethal and Tommy Farra. 


“Within the Ring” begins with Aronofsky’s admission that pro wrestling has always held a special fascination for him and how this led to the movie many years later.  [There is an excellent and extensive interview with the director by Terry Keefe HERE. Together with behind-the-scenes material and footage from the movie, we also hear from the writer Rob Siegel, producer Scott Franklin, editor Andy Weisblum, cinematographer Maryse Alberti, production designer Tim Grimes, stunt coordinator Doug Crosby and Mickey Rourke’s stunt double Armond "Kid U.S.A." Ciceri. 21 year-old Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) has her say about what it was like working with Aronovsky from a partly improvised script, but conspicuously absent in the extra features are interviews with either Mickey Rourke or Marisa Tomei.


In the "Wrestler Round Table" Featurette, Wrestling Hall of Famers: Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Lex Luger, "Diamond" Dallas Page, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, together with moderator Damon Andrews, talk about their work and offer their views on how realistically the movie portrayed the life.


All of the bonus features are in 480p, but only the music video is letterboxed.  The quality is fair to good, though some of the title frames are oddly cropped.




Recommendation: 7

If the world of professional wrestling has a hold on you or if you nothing about it and have never watched a match, then this is a must see movie. The Wrestler balances the surrealistic life in the ring - convincingly staged, I might add - with the devastating toll it takes on the personal life of one of its actors and his family. As the critics say, this is Mickey Rourke’s comeback role and I can’t imagine the film without him.  Neither as iconically heroic as Rocky nor as depressing as Leaving Las Vegas, The Wrestler finds its own intimate truth – and we believe it because of Rourke's subtle performance.  Don’t expect to find an engaging image just because it’s Blu-ray, but the DTS HD-MA audio is very good indeed.


Leonard Norwitz
April 23rd, 2009


About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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