Wrestling with destiny

If anything, The Wrestler is all about Mickey Rourke. The movie in itself isn’t all that, but it is Rourke’s acting that truly pins viewers to their seats.

The Wrestler is the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a professional wrestler from the 1980s. Randy is twenty years past his prime, his glory days are long gone. He wrestles in independent promotions barely making a living and at the same time; he works at a supermarket loading boxes. His estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), doesn’t want to be associated with him anymore. And the woman who is interested in him, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) realises that Randy’s life is spiraling into oblivion and the aged wrestler doesn’t want to stop himself.

In many ways, Randy and the actor that portrays him, Rourke, have much in common. Rourke’s career spiraled as uncontrollably as Randy’s. Both have achieved fame but have faced ignominy. Rourke achieved much success earlier on in his career with the portrayal of an arsonist in Body Heat. It was a role that garnered significant attention, despite his modest time onscreen.

Rourke also starred in Francis Ford Coppola’s follow-up to The Outsiders, the coming-of-age tale, Rumble Fish. He portrayed the mysterious older brother of Matt Dillon’s character, a role for which he was praised as a standout in a film that also featured such talents as Dennis Hopper, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn, Laurence Fishburne and Tom Waits. Rourke’s performance in the film The Pope of Greenwich Village alongside Daryl Hannah and Eric Roberts also caught the attention of critics. While the film was a box office flop during its initial release, it has become something of a minor cult hit.

In the mid-1980s, Rourke earned himself additional leading roles. His role alongside Kim Basinger in the controversial box-office hit 9½ Weeks helped him gain the “sex symbol” status. More successes would follow, particularly in films such as Angel Heart, Year of the Dragon, and Desperate Hours.

But Rourke was unstable. He has been known to walk off sets and not accept prominent roles: roles that have gone on to gain fame and awards. He turned down a number of high-profile acting roles, including Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop, Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, Tom Cruise’s role in Rain Man, Nick Nolte’s part in 48 Hours, Christopher Lambert’s part in Highlander and a part in Platoon. He even turned down Quentin Tarantino who offered Rourke the part of Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction. Rourke declined, and the role eventually was offered to Matt Dillon then Sylvester Stallone, before Bruce Willis invested in the film and was given the part.

After this time, Rourke left acting all together. It was in the early 90s that Rourke pushed himself to an ultimate test: he entered the world of Professional Boxing. He struggled to an unbeaten status with one draw facing minor opponents. Though he never achieved national prominence he did suffer a number of injuries, including a broken nose, toe, ribs, a split tongue, and a compressed cheekbone. The actor was simply too old to box and thus in 1995 he returned to acting. He made string of low-budget films, but didn’t achieve the same status that he had from in his former years.

In 2005, Rourke would have another bout with destiny. Robert Rodriguez adapted Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel Sin City and Rourke was chosen to play the part of Marv. Ultimately it would be this role that secured his role in The Wrestler.

But when Rourke read the script, he realised that he had a lot in common with him. In a recent interview he spoke about the role and the script, “When I first read the script, I hated the character. I hated his guts, and I hated the side of him that was such a loser, the fact that he couldn’t be accountable, or couldn’t take care of his responsibilities. That’s how I was for many years before I went to therapy.”

Though the actor was committed and understood, it seems that both the writer and the director were on different pages. Darren Aronofsky directed the film with Robert D. Siegel (a writer on the Onion website) writing the script. Aronofsky has not had a decent film ever since his morbid and melancholy outgoing in Requiem for a Dream. The Fountain before this was described as a catastrophic failure, though gaining some fans amongst the DVD market.

Aronofsky’s direction makes it seem more like Rocky meets the obscure 1989 Hulk Hogan film, No Holds Barred. Often it seems like the director is eager to make the audience squirm out of discomfort, rather than actually tell a story. We all know that wrestling is fake and it uses tactics to make the audience jump from their seat and squirm, but Aronofsky seems to make things too real for comfort at times.

Siegel’s script is a riddled with clichés. The only good moments are with Randy and even those are carefully enacted by Rourke, whose subtle charm tells the story of the fallen wrestler. And critics have lauded Rourke’s performance, so much so that they are calling it the “resurrection” of his career.

But there are parts in the script that even Rourke’s acting can’t help from oblivion. The subplot involving his daughter is unpersuasive, and the last few twists of his romance with Cassidy verges on the preposterous.

sThe only other good aspect of the movie is the soundtrack. The Boss himself, Brice Springsteen, provides a poignant song in the movie. This of course was no fluke, both Springsteen and Rourke are the best of friends, fans of each other’s work. So much so, that when Springsteen inquired about the actor’s current project he was given a script. Springsteen read it and immediately signed on to record the title single. Clint Mansell, who has produced music for all of Arofonsky’s previous films, provided the score here, and although it doesn’t deliver as Springsteen’s song does, it is heart-felt and emotes the struggles of the fallen wrestler.

The Wrester has gone on the win many crucial awards so far. The film won the Golden Lion Award at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. It was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards in 2008, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, which was won by Mickey Rourke. The Wrestler was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for Marisa Tomei, and won the award Best Original Song for The Wrestler composed by Bruce Springsteen.

The Wrestler isn’t one of the best pictures released last year, much like the title character it falters, stumbles at moments, but if there is any reason why you should watch it, that reason is Mickey Rourke.
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