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The Wrestler

By
The Wrestler
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenwriters: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Mickey Rourke (interview), Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Running Time: 115 mins
Certificate: 15

"I'm an old broken down piece of meat and I deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me."

It's hard to tell if these words are Mickey Rourke's plea to the moviegoing public or those of a battered, ageing wrestler to his neglected daughter in Darren Aronofsky's magnificent film - destined to go down as one of the 21st Century's greatest cinematic masterpieces. This movie strikes such a raw emotional nerve and charters deep psychological depths, mainly through the Golden Globe-winning performance by Mickey Rourke as a wrestler fallen on hard times and desperate to patch up his career, family and life in general.

Subtle direction from Aronofsky, responsible for the equally brooding Requiem For A Dream, enables this stunning central performance to reek of authenticity and rank alongside Marlon Brando's iconic turn in On The Waterfront as one of the most staggering portrayals of masculinity ever witnessed. Rourke's body is suitably ravaged for the part, but it's through his eyes that he is most expressive. Despite many tormented and despairing looks there's still a little fire burning deep inside that refuses to be extinguished.

Rourke portrays Randy 'The Ram' Robinson, a man once worshipped by wrestling devotees but now scraping a cheap buck putting his body on the line in front of audiences that don't even reach triple figures. When his health starts to fail in a major way, Randy seeks solace in the daughter (the superb Evan Rachel Wood) that he previously abandoned and also tries to devote some of his ailing heart to single mother stripper Cassidy (the sublime Marisa Tomei). Unlike the stitches used by medics to heal the physical lesions he received in the ring, Randy's emotional wounds prove far harder to heal.

In many ways, Rourke's turn as Randy echoes his own career - a massive '80s icon rejected by the industry that made him, struggling to get any kind of work and gain any measure of self respect. The wilderness years were painfully barren, with jobs increasingly harder to come by and poverty rearing its ugly head. The agonising sense of reckless waste constantly lingers throughout their lives.

Simply hit YouTube and search for Rourke's cameo scene in Sean Penn's 2001 film The Pledge, one of the rare occasions around the turn of the century when he managed to get hired in any capacity. It lasts barely a minute, but shows that his flame was never extinguished. Similarly, Randy always holds a torch for a return to the big time, even when the doctors warn him that it could prove fatal.

How you relate to The Wrestler, or indeed most films in general, will depend on your personal life experience. Anyone who has messed up things in life to a lesser or larger degree, endured agonising rejections, and is fully aware of their self-destructive actions will most likely be on the verge of tears throughout this beautifully fragile film. Any outpouring would be a cathartic release of emotions generated by the brutal but poetic nature of the movie.

The pivotal scenes, such as Randy's harrowing stint behind a deli counter or his tearful seaside plea to his estranged daughter, are certainly enough to cause a formation of lumps in the throat thanks to the emotive, but never contrived acting. The Wrestler's true power emerges once the credits have rolled and you're left with your own thoughts.

Its power is deeply connected to the fragility of Rourke and Randy. Both men were worshipped for their skills back in the day, only to effectively butcher themselves physically and mentally through either psychological impulses or financial necessity. While it's immensely satisfying to witness Rourke's resurrection as an actor, over two decades since his work in 9 1/2 Weeks and Diner and free from his Sin City prosthetics, it's hard to separate him from the bleak existence of Randy The Ram. Blurring the lines further is the fact that he rewrote much dialogue - and it shows through the passion and sincerity with which it's delivered.

It doesn't help matters when you consider that the chances of such a role coming along ever again in Rourke's lifetime are a lot slimmer than the bulked up waistline he displays while grappling on the canvas. So perhaps it's best to adopt the Carpe Diem approach: savour one of cinema's rawest talents finally powerslamming his way to glory and be grateful that Aronofsky dragged himself off the ropes on countless occasions to convince the money men to finance the movie with such a seemingly unbankable lead actor. Let's hope both the box office and Academy Awards give The Wrestler the rewards it so richly deserves.


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