(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Boxer/actor Mickey Rourke makes an acting comeback as a professional wrestler trying to retire and come back to his personal life. Like his character, Rourke has been scarred by his years of fighting but can still make a pretty good grab for the viewer's empathy. Darren Aronofsky tells a solid character-driven drama with simplicity and impact. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Barry Levinson's 1982 film DINER was one of those films that had an all-star cast, only nobody knew it yet. The film was a start for such familiar faces as Kevin Bacon, Steve Gutenberg, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, and Paul Reiser. All these became familiar faces. One other new face was Mickey Rourke, but that face no longer even exists. Rourke balanced careers as an actor and a prize-winning boxer. Sadly, that boyish Irish face was rearranged too many times in the ring. Today it looks more like a battlefield. Rourke's face is now only occasionally recognizable as that of the same person. But he is still acting. In his new film THE WRESTLER, directed by Darren Aronofsky, he looks more like some foe of Conan the Barbarian. He wears his blond hair beyond shoulder length and has a face that looks like it has been used to slam doors. He plays a professional wrestler who knows he has to get out of the business that he has allowed to be his only life for far too long. Here for the first time Aronofsky gives us his first work that can be considered such a personal story.

Randy "the Ram" Robinson is a household name to wrestling fans. Twenty years ago he was at the top of his game. Under the credits we see wrestling magazines singing his praises. That twenty-year- old acclaim is what he lives on these days. He trades off of that fame in the wrestling circuit making barely enough money to pay his rent in a trailer park. The fights he fights are scripted morality plays with winners, losers, injuries, and moves all planned in advance. People remember that years ago he fought and won in a classic fight against another wrestler called The Ayatollah. Randy knows he has just enough name left that in the game he will get just the money to survive. His one shot at real money he will get if he agrees to a promoted rematch with The Ayatollah. He is going to cash that final chip in when he has a heart attack. He keeps secret the knowledge that he can never fight again. So it is time to retire. But does he have a life to retire to?

His best friend is Pam, a stripper at a club where Randy goes. Marisa Tomei, who unfailingly gives a good performance film after film, plays Pam. Here she has just the right balance of street vulgarity and delicacy. Randy wants Pam's help to try to win back Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) the daughter he always ignored when his fighting career came first. All this could have been cliche but Rourke and Tomei give us a very tender relationship. His effort to bond with his daughter is equally poignant. Aronofsky's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was about drug addiction. This film is about a man addicted to the cheers of the fans. Randy's best moments have all been in front of screaming crowds and he is facing giving that up. Aronofsky's only false move is the very final shot, which verges over onto melodrama.

Mickey Rourke has what it takes to grab an audience. But how many roles are there going to come his way for his particular character type? Like his character he may have just one more shot. I rate THE WRESTLER a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10

My question is this: Popular actor Mark Margolis (who may be remembered as Alberto, the Latin assassin in SCARFACE) is fourth billed as the character Lenny. He is a favorite of Aronofsky, and I expected to see him. Was his part cut? I completely missed seeing him in the film.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper