So I'm rather profligate in my movie attendance, I must say. Friends have learned that it's usually a shorter answer to ask me what I have not seen than what I have. This weekend, I've seen two films... the first is Defiance, and the second is The Wrestler.
Defiance is filmmaker Edward Zwick's telling of the story of the 4 Bielski brothers (Tuvia, Zus, Aseal, and Aron), who had lived as farmers and sometime smugglers in Belarus. The story gives us little background information, as we're presumed to know the political environment of the times - it was in the midst of the Second World War, and it was arguably the worst time in history to be a Jew. When their parents were murdered (this is the only spoiler, I promise, and you must admit, it's small!), the four brothers decided not to be passive attendants of fate, but rather, to take off into the forest in an attempt to live.
Although I know that it is a fascinating story, perhaps I was expecting too much, because I didn't find the film much better than any fictional adventure story. Was it Daniel Craig, I wonder? Has he become too much associated with James Bond to take the Bond character out of his Tuvia? Of course, I haven't seen Craig's Bond, so that wouldn't likely be the case here... I just didn't find him altogether believable. He was stoic, his blue eyes were very blue, but I found him kind of... wooden.
Liev Schreiber, on the other hand, gave a fabulous performance. His Zus was nuanced and believable, his rage at murdering Nazis and collaborating neighbours all too real. Jamie Bell, too, was terrific as Aseal, the third brother. If you saw him in Billy Elliott, be assured that he's grown up now! (And if you haven't seen him in Billy Elliott, why the heck haven't you? It's a fabulous movie!) He doesn't have such a big part in this film, but he does get a couple of incredibly good scenes.
And speaking of scenes - a couple I could've done well without... OK, so we all know that Daniel Craig is gonna be the big hero in this film... but did they have to show him riding before a couple of hundred frightened forest refugees on a white horse? The only thing missing was the shining armour.
Then there's the scene of a group of women bathing in a brook - it's spring, getting warmer, and they're standing in the brook in undergarments (mostly slips, I think), laughing and chatting. Now, remember, they've been hiding in the woods for months, with very little to eat. One of the women pats her own derriere, and laughing, says, "I'm a skeleton!" Now, I'd never recommend anorexia as a way to make your character more believable - but nobody in this film looked undernourished in the least, certainly not the woman who made that remark! It felt gratuitous to me - it added nothing to plot progression and seemed quite discordant with everything else that had been going on.
Still, it's probably a film worth seeing, if only to encourage you to look up more information about the Bielski brothers.
On to Sunday night... The Wrestler. This one was made by Darren Aronofsky, who'd had a moderately interesting career up to 2006, when he produced Blood Diamond (except for Leo Di Caprio's appalling accent, that was quite a film). I'm not generally a wrestling fan - certainly not the 'wrestling as entertainment' genre. I don't understand the people who participate in this sport, and I most definitely don't understand the audiences who scream for more violence and blood as they watch. But let's move on.
Mickey Rourke has had a fairly long career, not especially distinguished, I don't think, but he seems to have worked steadily over the past couple of decades. He's made a couple of decent films (A Prayer for the Dying and 9 1/2 Weeks. You can check out his entire oeuvre at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000620/.), but he wasn't what I would've called a great actor.
The Wrestler has caused me to rethink my opinion here. His character, Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is a middle-age wrestler who also works part-time at a grocery store. He lives alone in a trailer that looks as if it was put together from spare parts, and he has a young daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) with whom he really has no relationship. Through the movie, there are heartbreaking and feeble attempts to develop a relationship with Stephanie (his daughter) and with Pam/Cassidy (the stripper with a heart of... well, not gold... played by Marisa Tomei).
This guy is broken in a thousand different ways, and the punishment he willingly inflicts on his battered self, just because here, at least, there is validation of his existence from others, is incredible. As played by Rourke, the character is wounded, sad, even gentle. He's polite - he's incredibly polite, in fact. He's kind. We don't get to hear how he wound up in the position in which we meet him - one of his former opponents has done markedly better, with a car dealership in Albuquerque - but we do get to see where he goes.
I didn't like some of the wrestling scenes - they are incredibly violent, and seeing someone smash another's face into the supports around a wrestling ring, complete with the ensuing blood, just doesn't do it for me. The film made it pretty clear that these really were staged scenes, but still, the sound of flesh slamming into canvas is hard to take. I know it's part of the whole wrestling as entertainment thing, but it's not my thing. Still, the movie is about much more than that.
Some of the music is very jarring - it's the loud 80s metal stuff, which I didn't much care for even during the loud 80s! Bruce Springsteen wrote a song for this film, though, which has earned a Golden Globe, and it's the song with which we close out the film. I've never been to a movie where almost everyone there stayed to watch the credits, because, I think, we were all listening to this song, and to how well Springsteen has captured the spirt of this man. If you go to http://www.brucespringsteen.net/news/index.html (and why wouldn't you, after all?!) and scroll down the page a bit, you'll see a video on the left-hand side of the page, a brief clip of Mickey Rourke explaining how Springsteen came to write this song for the film. You'll also get a very brief couple of clips from the film, but even in those clips, you can see the strength and sadness of the character he plays.
This is definitely a film worth seeing. In fact, it's worth seeing again - so if you want some company for it, let me know.