Movie Review: Rourke is back in ‘Wrestler’

By Jason Woods, News Staff

Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is a down-and-out boxer. A has-been, holding onto what little remains from the glory of his 1980s heyday, when he was a box office draw. A bona fide star.
A lot like Mickey Rourke.
After a lucrative career marked by cinema stardom and acclaim, Rourke seemed to throw it away for drugs, boxing, and unpredictable antics that became deal-breakers for directors. For much of the ’90s and early 2000s, he lived in the shadows of obscurity. He reemerged in 2005 with ‘Sin City’ and a powerful performance that some hailed as a comeback. No dice.
In ‘The Wrestler,’ Robinson has fallen just as far. In the ’80s, his most famous wrestling match sold out Madison Square Garden. Now he wrestles on the weekends for small crowds, a veritable Erik Estrada. He loads boxes at the local supermarket where his boss ridicules him for ‘sitting on guys’ heads.’ He clasps to the life he lived as a young man, spending what little money he has on steroids and tanning beds, trying to keep his wrestler physique.
Beneath the facade of muscles, Robinson is a lonely, aging man who’s thrown his life away, and who is desperately trying to connect with someone. His daughter wants nothing to do with him and his only acquaintance is a stripper, Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei (‘My Cousin Vinny’). Cassidy is also past her prime, no longer young and limber. It’s clear Robinson’s attraction to Cassidy is one born from a search for a kindred soul.
When Robinson is told he can’t wrestle anymore ‘- that his body can’t handle the abuse ‘- he tries to right his life. He gets a different job; tries to manage his money and reconnect with his daughter; and makes his relationship with Cassidy more substantial. But he’s a one-trick pony; wrestling is his life, and he realizes without it, he’s nothing.
In the year marked by comebacks, from formerly drug-addled Robert Downey Jr. transforming into an A-list Oscar nominee, to formerly crazy Britney Spears recording a platinum record, Rourke still stands out. He’s a force to be reckoned with in ‘The Wrestler.’ He gives a visceral performance, and the audience can’t help but feel his pain.
Rourke’s performance is layered, thick and complex. From sheer stubbornness to vulnerability, his pristine delivery is that of a veteran character actor, but unexpected in Hollywood from someone with a reputation like Rourke’s.
Rourke’s not the only heavyweight in the film. Oscar-winner Tomei’ turns in one of the strongest performances of her career as Cassidy, equally jarring and moving.
‘The Wrestler’ may not be for everyone. It’s violent, demoralizing and it represents just how far someone can fall from grace. But it also offers a powerful glimpse at the soul of a man:’ his determination and will. Randy is good at one thing, and he’s sacrificed everything else in his life to be ‘The Ram.’
Rourke won the Golden Globe for his performance in this film. While he’s nominated for an Oscar as well, the front-runner this year is Sean Penn for ‘Milk,’ who’s won most of the other major guild and critics awards. It’s sad’ ‘- Rourke gives the performance of his lifetime. But beyond that, this is the best performance of the year, if not the decade.

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