On the Aisle
Film Review by Tony Macklin
Mickey Rourke is the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor.
You mean the guy who ruined a promising career with destructive abuse of others and self? The guy who went through botched relationships, botched career choices and botched surgeries? The guy who obsessed on anger, steroids and cigs? Wasn’t he broke, broken-down and living on the street?
Maybe all of that is why his gallant performance in “The Wrestler” has been so regaled as redemptive. Once in a rare while an actor meets a role that he himself has lived, and his knowledge and experience humanize and verify it. So it is with Rourke and character Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Both are men who were celebrated for their talent and success, severely abused themselves, lost it all, then tried to face their fallen husks and sought salvation.
In “The Wrestler,” Rourke, with a scraggly mane of dyed hair, portrays “The Ram,” a once-adored wrestler, who is living in a trailer park, working menial jobs lifting boxes and working behind a meat counter and trying to hawk signed memorabilia in nearly deserted rooms, with other aging has-been wrestlers.
His battered body and wracked health make a comeback unlikely, although he still can be a draw in the ring.
Rourke, because of his own personal frailties, stumbles and crashing falls, can invest authenticity in the wounded Ram. Ram obviously is a man with whom Rourke empathizes.
Rourke obviously has quite an ego. And he is stubborn. He has been quoted giving his angry, ardent support for George W. Bush. But as an actor Rourke controls his ego and creates in Ram a character of fallible decency. Ram now is trying to do what is right. Very belatedly.
He wants to salvage a ruined relationship with his estranged daughter (Rachel Wood) but thinks he can’t because she hates him, and she does because he walked out on his family.
Ram develops a relationship with a weary stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who also is facing the challenge of change. She knows she is aging and hopes to escape to a new life.
Ram and Cassidy fight to cope with fading careers and bewildering futures. Is a new life possible?
Director Darren Aronofsky helmed the harrowing “Requiem for a Dream” (2001) and the muddled “The Fountain” (2006). “The Wrestler” is more commercial. Aronofsky creates a world of grit and gore. He doesn’t mock wrestling. He understands it is violent entertainment. Part of the act is actual bloodletting—razor blades, staplers, barbed wire, metal chairs. The charade has its raw reality.
Ram’s body is a map of scars, scratches, welts and his head and heart have endured brutal punishment.
Rourke grew up as a boxer, so he knows the world of physical combat. At the age of 12, Rourke, as a bantamweight, won his first boxing bout. From 1991 to 1994, he fought seven professional fights and suffered severe facial injuries that required surgery.
Rourke says he underwent psychiatric treatment three times a week and had religious counsel from an Italian priest who was his friend. It was a long trek back.
Aronofsky and writer Robert D. Siegel obviously know John Huston’s “Fat City” (1972), which is one of my favorite sports films. “The Wrestler,” though not as stellar, has much in common with it.
“Fat City” didn’t do well at the box office, but it shows an authentic world of the fighter. Director Huston at one time was the Amateur Lightweight Boxing Champion of California.
“Fat City” had a great opening song, Kris Kristofferson singing “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” “The Wrestler” has a great closing song by Bruce Springsteen.
For “Fat City,” Susan Tyrrell won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress. Marisa Tomei has received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress in “The Wrestler” and has an excellent chance to win.
Both “The Wrestler” and “Fat City” have the verisimilitude of the fight game — wrestling and boxing.
“The Wrestler” is not a great film, but it is a powerful one. And Mickey Rourke is its pulsating, wrenching engine.