Few directors seem to take greater pleasure in rubbing our noses in the muck of modern life than Darren Aronofsky, the very gifted but brutally exacting filmmaker responsible for Pi, Requiem for a Dream and now The Wrestler. Aronofsky seems drawn to characters at the margins of society, who push themselves to the brink (and sometimes straight over the edge) of destruction. Yet there’s no feeling in the director’s movies; no sense of hopefulness or redemption.
The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke, who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a once-famous professional wrestler now eking out a modest living drifting from wrestling matches to autograph signings. His daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) barely speaks to him. His only sanctum is a dingy strip club, where he gets lap dances from a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress). As poignant as Rourke often is here, he can’t obscure the bald-faced cliches of the screenplay by Robert D. Siegel. Randy is a familiar sports-movie figure, the dissolute Raging Bull incapable of letting go of the past, while Cassidy is an even more obnoxious conceit, the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold. And the director’s technique, jumping right into the ring with Randy, is so brutal and clinical that you often want to look away. CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Also on DVD this week
Frost/Nixon is a dutiful and intelligent adaptation of Peter Morgan’s stage play that imagines that behind-the-scenes action of the famed television interview between Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen). Though often fascinating and excellently acted, the movie never really gets the heart pumping. 2 stars. CHRISTOPHER KELLY
Notorious takes a look at the life of Biggie Smalls, the Brooklyn-born rapper who was murdered in 1997 at the age of 24. It’s a messy, lively melodrama, reasonably faithful to the facts of Biggie’s life and wholeheartedly devoted to burnishing his myth. 3 stars. A.O. SCOTT, NEW YORK TIMES