You don’t have to have been young in the ’80s to know how buff Mickey Rourke was in benchmark movies like Diner, Body Heat and Rumble Fish, but if you were, you’ll be all the more dismayed atwhat he’s done to himself over the last 20 years.
He was our Marlon Brando, we thought. And for the most part he’s lived down to that estimation in the worst way, slumming it in movies that only revealed his contempt for the business, letting his talent slide.
All of which makes Rourke the perfect – maybe the only – actor who could do justice to Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, the washed-up wrestler at
the heart of Darren Aronofsky’s beautiful, bittersweet and, at times, suprisingly funny, small-town blues of a movie.
Like Rourke, The Ram was Big Time back in the ’80s, a potential champion who came close, but no cigar. Two decades later he’s trailer trash. He still puts on the moves, but now he’s playing school gyms and selling photos for $8 a pop.
The money mostly goes on steroids and his fave stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, pretty terrific in a clichéd role).
Whatever you thought of Aronofsky’s last film, The Fountain – and there are plenty of people with strong opinions on both sides of that argument –The Wrestler marks a complete change of pace.
Low-key and naturalistic, with long, handheld tracking shots reminiscent of the Dardennes, this takes us way back past the loser-poetry of the first Rocky movie, all the way to the gutter Americana of the early ’70s.
Randy’s attempts to forge meaningful connections with Cassidy and his pissed-off daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) are probably doomed from the start, but we love him for trying.
Rourke looks waxy, bruised and bloated, but he hasn’t lost his charm. You come away with the reminder that this is where so many American Dreamers wind up: trapped in a cycle of self-defeat.
For Rourke, at least, the wrestler is the role of lifetime, and he’s better than he’s ever been.
Aronofsky’s most authentic film refuses to ridicule the amateur wrestling circuit, while Rourke’s portrait of a has-been will surely be the comeback of the year.