How to describe Mickey Rourke’s raw, elemental tour de force as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler? Think of a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit and ready to blow. Rourke gets everything right about this battler who’s not ready to go over the hill — his pain, his battered body and his grieving heart.
Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) gives this bruiser of a movie exactly the kind of no-bull honesty it needs. The scenes in which Ram works out the choreography of a wrestling match with his brothers in the game are funny as hell, and hell to watch when the wrestlers bleed for real.
Working from a script by Robert Siegel, Aronofsky transcends what could have been a formula story in lesser hands. Ram wants to get back in the top venues, but steroids, a fake tan and long, bottle-blond hair don’t cut it in the new wrestling world, where gimmicks range from alien costumes to staple guns (you bleed a lot, but the staples don’t leave scars).
Ram is living in a trailer in New Jersey, his heyday is over and his ticker’s on the blink. Can Ram climb back to the top? Well, Rourke sure can. With movies as bad as Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man, it’s no wonder Rourke switched careers and went into boxing for a fair share of the 1990s. He inched back with a pow supporting role in 2005’s Sin City, but the star spot in The Wrestler makes Rourke the year’s comeback kid.
Rourke doesn’t make a single false move in this movie. His boxing training gave him a new respect for wrestling, and his dedication shows in the ring. You may flinch, but you won’t look away. And Rourke is revelatory in the intimate scenes with the excellent Evan Rachel Wood as Ram’s estranged daughter and Marisa Tomei as his stripper girlfriend. Tomei is flat-out fabulous, playing a woman who knows as well as Ram that a body can take only so much abuse. You watch The Wrestler (with a superb title song from Bruce Springsteen) in a state of pure exhilaration. A great actor in a great movie will do that to you.