Friday, March 20, 2009

Rourke is astounding in 'The Wrestler'

Mickey Rourke may not have won the Oscar for Best Actor for his astounding performance in “The Wrestler” but he won nearly every other major film award including the BAFTA, the Golden Globe and the Independent Spirit Award and deservedly so. Don’t miss this performance.

Rourke was a promising young actor in the 1980s who became a star with performances in such films as “Diner” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” but several bad career moves and a detour into professional boxing left him on the outs in the film industry.

In recent years he has slowly been making a comeback with strong supporting roles in films such as “Sin City” and “Domino.” “The Wrestler” marks his return as a great actor.

In “The Wrestler,” Rourke plays a washed up professional wrestler named Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who is barely staying afloat and desperately trying to make a comeback. It is easy to see why Rourke was drawn to this material and he taps into raw emotions that few actors do. There’s a speech toward the end of the film where he could easily be talking about himself.

Randy has a strained relationship with the daughter (Evan Rachel Wood, “Across the Universe”) he walked out on years ago. This is familiar material, but rarely are scenes like this written with such honesty and performed with so much intense, seemly real emotion. Wood and Rourke share scenes that could make even the toughest tough guy shed a tear.

The other relationship in Randy’s life is with Cassidy, a striper (Marisa Tomei, “My Cousin Vinnie”) at a club he frequents. They have a rapport that could be more than simply her being nice to him because he’s a costumer and he would like to create a real relationship. She’s guarded about this, but slowly let’s herself become involved.

Tomei does strip in the film, and not just typical “movie striping” this is the real, nasty deal. The amazing thing about her performance is that she makes Cassidy a full character. She’s a tender, compassionate person with a daughter. She stripes as a means to an end. Again, this may sound familiar, but the script by Robert Siegel instills all these scenes with authenticity.

The film is a departure for director Darren Aronofsky whose previous films “Pi,”
“Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain” were full of visual trickery. The filmmaking here is more simplistic, restrained and less showy. Aronofsky simply trusts the story and character instead of the visual gimmicks that while effective in his other films would’ve been distracting here.

This is not a wrestling movie although there are scenes in the ring and for those who are wrestling fans there are scenes that show some of the tricks of the trade and post-show clean up that are fascinating. Those who aren’t wrestling fans should not dismiss the film because of the occupation of its title character.

"The Wrestler" is a study of someone who is broken by life and just struggling to make it through each day. Rourke’s Randy is a man who is desperately reaching out for some sort of emotional connection whether it is with his daughter or a striper turned potential girlfriend. It is a movie about how much a person can take before they just give up.

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