Aronofsky paves the way for Rourke’s comeback

By Trevor Hale, Red Pulse Editor

Mickey Rourke shouldn’t be getting all the credit. Much has been said about Rourke’s tour de force comeback performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson8212;and that praise is well-deserved8212;but everyone seems to be overlooking another, equally important factor. Darren Aronofsky, director of the harrowing “Requiem for a Dream” and the confusingly beautiful film “The Fountain,” has made the best movie of his career so far.

Don’t misread that first part, because there is no way anyone could downplay the work Rourke does here, but the praise needs to go in just about every other direction as well.

Robinson was on top of the professional wrestling world in the ’80s, with his own action figure (which now doubles as a dashboard trophy) and video game (which he now plays with the kids in his trailer park neighborhood). But like some of the other famous faces of wrestling past, The Ram is now making ends meet performing in front of a few hundred people on weekends, selling autographs at warehouse conventions, picking up shifts at a supermarket and holding on tightly to the glory days.

His life is a complete mess of steroids, an estranged daughter, strip clubs and alcohol. The fact that a lot of the minor details echo Rourke’s real life for the past two decades is one of the reasons he’s able to get to the core of this character and make The Ram such a tragic figure. It’s also a testament to what a great actor Mickey Rourke has always been.

Rourke isn’t alone here, though. Marisa Tomei plays Cassidy/Pam, a stripper that Ram starts to fall for, and whose life follows a similar8212;if much less extreme path8212;as Ram’s. She’s vibrant, charming and makes you feel every repressed emotion simmering just under the surface. Between Tomei’s performance in this movie, last year’s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” and 2001’s “In The Bedroom,” she’s more than made up for that Academy Award she may or may not have won for “My Cousin Vinny.”

Evan Rachel Wood, as Ram’s estranged daughter Stephanie, shows the other side to Ram’s troubled life. After the doctors tell him he needs to quit wrestling because of a heart attack, Ram starts trying to pick up the pieces of a life he’s been shattering for nearly two decades, and reconnecting with his daughter is the first step. Wood, who is one of the best young actors working today, is heartbreaking in her performance of a girl that hates her father for leaving her, but at the same time, still wants to know him.

Aronofsky, working from a great script by Robert Siegel, rarely strays from following Rourke, but stays back far enough to let every scene breathe. Whereas his last film, “The Fountain,” was a big budget, special effects-laden production, “The Wrestler” is about as stripped down as possible. There’s no showy camera work or anything that makes sure the audience is acutely aware it’s watching a movie, rather Aronofsky wisely chooses to focus on the story. The interactions between every character are genuine and real on every level, and all the actors know how to use subtlety to the best possible effect. It’s the quiet moments that make this movie great, and in the hands of a lesser director (or star for that matter8212;Nicolas Cage was originally cast instead of Rourke) things could have spilled over into parody.

“The Wrestler” is a movie that feels lived in and fully realized thanks to everyone involved8212;including Bruce Springsteen and his brilliant theme song. It’s one of Rourke’s best performances ever and it cements Aronofsky’s status as one of the most diverse directors working today. I just hope this is the start of great things for Aronofsky and not the pinnacle of his career (hell, “The Wrestler” convinced me that the “Robocop” reboot he’s attached to might be good after all). For Rourke, I just hope he doesn’t disappear again. He’s too good to lose a second time.

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