Comeback kid

Mickey Rourke’s return to spotlight parallels his character in The Wrestler

POWERSLAM<br>Mickey Rourke is in vintage form as wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

Mickey Rourke is in vintage form as wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson.

The Wrestler
Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Feather River Cinemas, Paradise Cinema 7 and Tinseltown. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Mickey Rourke’s audacious “comeback” performance in the title role of this film has been its chief selling point, and rightly so. But Rourke is only part of the story in this spectacularly uneven, low-budget farrago from Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream).

The Oscar-nominated performances of both Rourke and Marisa Tomei are superbly matched, and key components in the muscular emotionality of the film’s unfolding drama. That visceral intensity seems part and parcel of its starkly convincing ironies as well as its sentimental cop-outs.

Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Rourke) is an aging professional wrestler, playing out the tag-end of his career in low-rent matches and threadbare nostalgia meets. He’s still buff enough to draw a little extra cash on the weekends, but there’s no hiding the signs of physical wear and tear. And, as the film opens, he’s having trouble making the rent on his trailer-park domicile.

A post-match heart attack throws his entire existence into a state of full-on crisis. By that point, he’s already trying to make something more enduring out of the very part-time relationship he has with his favorite strip-club dancer—Pam (Tomei), who works professionally under the name of Cassidy. And it is Cassidy/Pam who moves “the Ram” to attempt a reconciliation with his alienated and long-neglected daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).

Robert Siegel’s fitfully inspired screenplay sets up some provocative parallels between the lives, professional and otherwise, of the wrestler and the stripper, with combinations of physical beauty, rituals of illusion, sham identities and commercial exploitation all playing into the chief characters’ personal travails. And Pam is permitted to heighten the thematic stakes by noting a parallel between the wrestlers’ choreographed bloodletting and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Randy doesn’t get her punning quip about him being a “sacrificial ram,” but he is devoted to his profession’s blood-sport rituals of physical abuse in ways that suggest half-crazed martyrdom arising from unpromising circumstances and very narrow horizons. Unfortunately, some other elements of the film remain mired in a forced kind of melodrama—with the Randy-Stephanie scenes being particularly stilted and unconvincing.

Ultimately, the film’s more brilliant moments of irony get partly lost in a muddle of grim, cheapjack sensationalism—especially in the detailed attention to the petty but gruesome self-inflicted wounds to which Randy and his colleagues are prone.

Nevertheless, the exceptionally frank physical challenges of the roles played by Rourke and Tomei have a lot to do with the remarkable vitality—and the desperate dignity—that emerge in their performances and characterizations.