Mickey Rourke has a chokehold on Toronto critics’ hearts (see page 89).
THE WRESTLER directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Robert Siegel, with Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. 109 minutes. A Fox Searchlight release. Opens December 25. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Mickey Rourke rocks the ring as a has-been given another chance
Rarely have an actor and role converged so perfectly and so powerfully.
Mickey Rourke is a once-great actor whose career has been on the ropes almost from the start and whose face looks like a turnbuckle thanks to years of boxing, drugs and other abuses. Here, he inhabits the battered bleach-blond bruiser Randy "Ram" Robinson, a past-his-prime pro wrestler still clinging to hopes of a comeback.
It's also a comeback for Rourke.
In a bid to resuscitate his career and earn a little self-respect, he gives the most brutally honest performance of the year.
Rourke's Ram lives for the roar of the crowd, even if it's only a couple hundred people in a rundown Legion hall. Outside the ring, his life has no meaning. He's got a bitterly estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), a job at a grocery store and a rundown trailer not so different from the one Rourke lived in not long ago.
Marisa Tomei isn't afraid to bare her soul.
His only companions are a few kids from the trailer park who treat him like a set of monkey bars and an aging stripper (a fearless Marisa Tomei), whose days of making a buck off her body are just as numbered as Ram's.
Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem For A Dream, The Fountain) strips the film of his usual visual flourishes and self-indulgence to capture the drudgery of Ram's daily existence with a hand-held near-documentary style. Ram gets his hair dyed, gets a tan, puts in his hearing aid or adjusts his reading glasses, Ram injects himself with steroids or has staples removed from his body after a particularly bloody battle....
But Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert Siegel never make a mockery of him. Neither do they allow sentimentality to seep through or play on our sympathy or pity.
There's a quiet nobility about Ram, who accepts the cards life's dealt him and is a compliant sufferer.
More than merely Raging Bull with wrestling, The Wrestler has startling depth and humour. The tiny film feels both intimate and epic - and entirely heartbreaking. The performances, particularly Rourke's and Tomei's, are raw and alive.
They've got nothing to lose - and it shows. For the scene in which Ram cuts his own forehead with a razor blade during a fight, Rourke used a real blade, made a real cut and bled real blood.
There's no fakery anywhere.
Mickey Rourke's knockout comeback will get him a best actor nod, and Marisa Tomei could put grumbling over her My Cousin Vinny win to rest with a supporting category nomination. If Darren Aronofsky is overlooked for director, Robert Siegel's original screenplay could get some love. And count on Bruce Springsteen to bring soul to the Nokia when he performs his nominated original song (from his new 09 disc).