I’ve never thought about Mickey Rourke much, never seen any of his movies, never particularly cared for him.
Until recently, I, too, thought the guy was a joke, having seen him at events on South Beach, looking disheveled and less than starry. Once, I even spotted him on Lincoln Road, sitting on a curb talking to one of his dogs. It was sad.
All that has changed now that I’ve come to realize Rourke is, indeed, an actor, thanks to Darren Aronosky’s The Wrestler.
Rourke channels himself to play Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a beloved 1980s-era pro wrestler who has become a burnt-out shell of his former self. With the best times of his life behind him, Randy’s still a fighter. He’s holding on to the glory days for dear life, going about his routine as if he still has It. And you know, in a way, he does – he’s older, not too much wiser, and he’s doing what he likes to do no matter what. He may be down, but he definitely is not out.
But after he has a heart attack, following one of the beyond-brutal small-time matches he now takes on, a doctor tells him he’s gotta quit, that he could die if he ever fights again.
In an effort to build a new life, Randy takes a job at a deli. He doesn’t hate it – he’s not built that way, he won’t allow himself to hate it – but he doesn’t love it. Rourke does a terrific job at expressing contemplativeness with few words. It’s all in his face – he wears this blow he’s been dealt in his skin, yet he carries on because that’s what you do.
Having slowed down the pace, Randy also tries to woo an aging stripper (a stellar Marisa Tomei) with whom he’s developed more than a stripper-customer relationship (even though she still makes him pay for his lap dances). He also tries to mend things with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood), with mixed results.
But old habits die hard, and the prospect of a rematch with an old nemesis proves too tempting to resist, even if it means risking his life. But like they say, you gotta go big or go home, right? After all, fighting is who he is. It’s all he has.
The Wrestler goes big alright. It shows us that if you love doing something then you should do it, that you should put yourself out there, even if you’re “an old broken down piece of meat” like Randy, and that you should take the sweet with the bitter.
More surprisingly, it shows us hat Mickey Rourke still is in the ring. And that’s worth the price of admission right there.
My Rating ****
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures.