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The Wrestler

Oscar time for Mickey Rourke? In what may be the Hollywood comeback of the year, the former bad boy gives a blistering performance as a champion wrestler whose life is now in the ropes.


Back in the 1980s, when bad-hair rockers ruled, so did Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Rourke), a champion wrestler who finds himself at the end of the line. Too many steroids and too much partying have taken their toll on the middle-aged wrestler, whose health is failing faster than his self-esteem. In his own way, Randy's just trying to salvage what's left of his life. Trouble is, he doesn't know how, and after retiring from wrestling he discovers that the ring is the only place he's ever found a modicum of dignity and self-satisfaction, and undertakes a comeback that is perhaps unwise but nevertheless inevitable. It's all he knows.


In a performance bound to be much talked-about during awards season, Mickey Rourke brings distinct echoes of his own persona and career to the role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Yet, to be fair to screenwriter Robert D Siegel, it's also a strong and nuanced piece of writing. Character studies are few and far-between these days in Hollywood. This picture not only qualifies but qualifies as something on the level of a 21st-century Requiem for a Heavyweight. The film is unquestionably a showcase for its leading man, but there's exceptional supporting work. Marisa Tomei (who's made something of a comeback for herself lately, considering her work here and in last year's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), plays a stripper, not quite of the golden-heart variety but close, who takes a shine to Randy, and Evan Rachel Wood as Randy's long-estranged and long-embittered daughter. Additional flavor is added by the appearances of many real-life pro wrestlers in the background. But there's no question to whom this movie belongs to, and Rourke's performance is indeed among the very best, and perhaps the single most appealing, of his screen work to date.


Since his auspicious feature debut, Pi, a full decade ago, Darren Aronofsky has made two subsequent feature films -- the powerhouse adaptation of Requiem for a Dream and the epic fantasy romance The Fountain, which polarized audiences; he's made every one count. In some ways, this is his most accessible and human film, but it's in no way a traditional crowd-pleaser. It's gutsy and gutty, yet heartfelt. It's also unlike Aronofsky has ever done before, although there are a few thematic echoes to his earlier work (particularly The Fountain, in terms of the principal character's musings about loss), and again helps to stake his claim as one of today's most daring young filmmakers -- unwilling to coast on previous success and instead intent on treading new ground each time out.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.