Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use, 109 minutes
Rourke's a winner in the affecting "Wrestler"
If you enjoy comeback stories both on and off the screen, then "The Wrestler" is for you. Darren Aronofsky's low-key tale of a washed up athlete is affecting, poignant and superbly acted by Mickey Rourke. Yes, you read that right. Rourke, a talented actor back in the day (that is the 1980's), has become something of a joke over the years and who pops up every now and then in smaller parts, seemingly as washed up as the part he plays here. But Rourke, in a comeback role, brings it here and is superbly affecting, altogether restrained in a terrific role for the actor.
Rourke is Randy "The Ram" Robinson, an aged 50ish, over the hill retired professional wrestler who stays in the ring for the money. Out of the ring his life is something of a mess. He works minimum wage jobs, has ongoing health problems and enjoys lap dances from a stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), about the only regular girl in his life. His estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) rightfully wants nothing to do with him though he repeatedly tries to make amends.
His life is all about wrestling, though, and he makes his way on the independent wrestling circuit one last time so he can have one more showdown with a former rival before his health issues get the best of him.
"The Wrestler" is an affecting drama in the vein of "Rocky" and a comeback story in every vein. Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream") and writer Robert D. Siegel perfectly capture the story of a has-been and turn it into a winner. Shot on a low-budget, the film looks and feels cheap yet that works in the favor of the downbeat tone of the movie.
"The Wrestler's" story does present itself with those sports-movie cliches along the way you've seen many times before (just one more chance in the ring), but Rourke's fine, sensitive portrayal of an athlete who doesn't know anything different is the clear highlight of the film. With long, stringy blond hair and a worked out body, Rourke is something of a revelation: subdued and emotionally affecting, in a performance that's rightfully garnering him awards consideration and hopefully stronger parts in the future.
Tomei and Wood, as the only women in his life (and in the movie), also deliver strong supporting performances, especially from Tomei, as the stripper with a heart (but who still makes Randy pay for dances). The story also gives some behind-the-scenes insight into the fake world of wrestling; some of the scenes inside the ring are more entertaining than they have a right to be. Also fun: watching Rourke work the deli counter of a grocery store, and preparing for a fight.
The final act, along with the finale itself, plays itself out a bit too predictably, but it all works due to "The Wrestler" himself, Rourke, who is the main reason to see the film. A nice, low-key Springsteen song over the credits also fits into the film nicely. "The Wrestler" is a memorable, understated portrayal of someone who's doing what he truly enjoys.