“The Wrestler” (quality rating: 9 out of 10)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Robert Siegel
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Time: 1 hr., 45 min.
Rating: R (violence, sexuality, vulgarity, nudity, some drug use)
Wow. Imaginative cinema art, garishly virile sport, red-blooded personalities of the first magnitude. Yes, go for this, an uncommonly dramatic movie with jolting power of personality.
Philip Andre “Mickey” Rourke, Jr., born September 16, 1952, now returns at 56 to the big screen after a lifetime of controversial roles that have made him a poster boy of masculinity in France but a politically incorrect whipping boy for American critics. His sin: he has dominated women, definitely unacceptable in these empowerment times (his most infamously impudent, the 1986 “9 1/2 Weeks” with Kim Basinger). He’s best remembered from his 1982 cult classic, “Diner.”
I cannot be more impressed by Rourke’s performance, up there where the air is rare with the best of the year (not likely to get any Oscar, of course — political incorrectness dies hard). This is a strikingly accomplished role by an actor who’s obviously a believer in the roles he plays.
A film of advanced megawattage in its energy, sure of its film technique, it frankly forsakes any profound plot and instead creates a story made up of crackling images and vibrant individuals, not events, although those events are done up with the most creative audio-visual power.
Blistering the screen with amazingly well-calculated hand-held camera shots, never overdone, the film plays at all the things unsaid by faces etched by lifetimes of personal travail.
The personalities have one thing in common: life has been hard and limiting for them.
A lifetime professional boxer and wrestler in his real life, Rourke stars here as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a big, big bruiser of a hulk, who barrels about in long, dyed-blond hair with a jumbled, puffy face. Although a has-been for the last 20 years, the man’s in decent shape and is inclined to go for the top in the pro wrestling circuit.
Randy is working class man’s sports hero. For them, he’s real, not one of those walking wrestling cartoons of absurd machismo, self-styled freaks that play on fantasy. Early on, a bunch of those muscle-bound stars pal around with each other, planning ahead for the moves in coming matches.
For bucks, he totes cartons at a box store, thrilling little boys, but the work hardly even puts bread on the table and does not pay the rent on his trailer home. He circulates among low-rent rooms, American Legion halls, seedy clubs and nondescript shops (shot in New Jersey). He does maintain his dignity by frequenting a gentlemen’s club, there to check out weather-worn stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). But, by way of a heart attack, he’ll soon be aware of his mortality after the next wrestling bout, an event of horrendous, barbarously grotesque pounding.
He needs a woman. But neither Cassidy nor his long-disconnected daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) are sure about allowing into their lives so physically and emotionally battered a man. Yet he continues to pursue a 20th-anniversary rematch of his most famous bout, “Ram vs.Ayatollah.”
Marty Meltz is at http://www.martymoviereviews.com 30-year former films critic for the Award-winning Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram. Offering right-to-the-point reviews that address directly the question of the film’s entertainment value to you. Films have personalities. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, who directs it, who stars in it, if it doesn’t reach out to you at your deepest levels. I examine its honesty and intelligence. Are you being respected, or are you being jerked around? How much did the film take on as a challenge? Did it pick up its point and run with it? Did you care about it? Does it care about you?