Hollywood is full of comebacks. The rags to riches, to rags and back to riches story is not something consigned to fiction. And with the release of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, The Wrestler, we may be witnessing a comeback that would be somewhat unbelievable if it were projected on screen. Mickey Rourke’s resurrection is bolstered by his performance as one-time wrestling superstar, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. The accolades have come thick and fast. But is the praise lavished upon the film justified?
Randy Robinson was once a professional wrestling superstar. He was the world champion, the people’s champion and a symbol for the United States of America. But he is well past his prime. His past glories have faded into almost obscurity and the only glimpse he has of his former glory is the occasional fan who looks for his autograph. The only action he sees is in the small, poorly-paid amateur circuit. For the most part, he is alone. The only companionship he has is in the form of a stripper called Cassidy. And that companionship is consigned to the club. And he has to pay for it. But an opportunity arises for Randy to regain some of his former glory. But his failing health stands in his way. He’s alone; his estranged daughter won’t talk to him. But he is just looking for somewhere to belong.
There is no doubt, the film rests on Mickey Rourke’s massive shoulders. He is in almost every frame of the film, and his performance needed to be close-on perfect. And, thankfully, it is. Rourke’s career became a train-wreck in the early nineties. Bored with acting, Rourke returned to his pre-acting passion, boxing. And it took it’s toll on Rourke. Both physically and when it came to his career. He turned down roles, and became almost unemployable. In the last few years, Steve Buscemi, Sean Penn and Robert Rodriguez have given Rourke choice roles in order to bring the actor out of the cold. But it is Aronofsky’s film that is the make or break for Rourke.
Thankfully for Rourke, his performance as Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is fantastic. To use a cliché, it’s pretty much the role Rourke was born to play. Or at least, the role he has prepared for for the last fifteen years. Robinson is a broken down man. He is battle-scarred, run down and pretty much down on his luck. But he’s not a bad guy. For the most part, he’s a genuinely nice guy. It’d be too easy to make the character an unlikable kinda guy. But Rourke takes the blows, both physically and mentally with a wounded pride and this is what makes Robinson a compelling character.
Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy, the object of Robinson’s affections. Sure, she’s a stripper, but she’s far from the ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ type character you’d expect from the film. She is a mirror of The Ram. They both take off their clothes and are scruitinized for what they can do with their bodies. But the difference between them is, The Ram wants to return to his former glory. Cassidy wants out of the stripping business. She provides some comfort to Robinson. But she holds back. She can’t get too close to a customer. And Tomei balances these two sides very well.
Darren Aronofsky previously made four excellent films. With each film, the scope of the story increased. He came in for some criticism for the woefully-received The Fountain. But it was a film that some people just didn’t get. Here, he returns to a smaller, more personal story. And it’s just as good as anything he’s done before. Aronofsky was met with some scepticism when he said he wanted Rourke for the title role. But thanks to his tenacity, we as the audience benefit. The film is excellent. The script is very strong, the direction is spot-on. Aronofsky really capture the sub-culture of amateur wrestling. As a companion piece, the fantastic documentary Beyond The Mat should be seen. When viewed along-side The Wrestler, you appreciate on a whole new level, just how well Aronofsky captured the scene.
With Golden Globes won, and rumours of Oscar glory, The Wrestler is a triumph for all involved. Rourke has come in from the cold, and if he continues with performances as good as this, he’ll be here to stay. The second film of 2009 is another fantastic piece of work. Long may this trend continue.