The Wrestler Mickey Rourke’s amazing comeback
Can Mickey Rourke make one of the comebacks of modern movie history, bagging a Best Actor Oscar for his role as a fallen fighter in “The Wrestler”?
Don't bet against it after watching Darren Aronofsky's harrowing drama, which took top awards on the autumn festival circuit.
Rourke -- whose bad-boy existence has fed tabloids for the best part of two decades -- confronts the part of fallen 1980s ring legend Randy “The Ram” Robinson, getting by on a diet of painkillers and steroids and at one point lamenting: “I'm an old broken-down piece of meat.”
Wrestling traditionally presents itself as prime-time pantomime; in contrast Aronofsky takes a naturalistic, semi-documentary stance, revealing a contrived theatre of gore, replete with staple guns, barbed wire and self-cutting as stage props.
Despite acknowledgment, even reverence, from fellow ring stars, Robinson looks toward dancer Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), also engaged in a world of fakery, for solace; and his estranged student daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) for reconciliation.
But he is a relic fighting against time and his attraction to the limelight, as primitive and retro as his bleach-yellow scrag of hair or the 1980s bouffant rock that soundtracks the drama.
Photography sets the narrative within a series of interiors -- the inside of trailer homes and locker rooms, supermarkets and clubs -- to emphasise how Robinson is trapped in his addiction to the limelight. When the drama does switch to exteriors, it is into a chilly landscape washed in grey hues and slab browns. Rarely does Aronofsky -- himself making a minor comeback after “The Fountain” (2006) -- allow the camera to go wide.
Toward the movie's end there are a couple of minor narrative mistrips -- but they are not enough to derail Aronofsky's intent nor Rourke's startling and raw performance.
Of course it's easy to say that Rourke is simply building on his own life experiences for the role (a seasoned boxer himself, he has referenced his wild times during publicity junkets for the movie).
But that notion suggests Rourke is somehow channelling and not acting; and with “The Wrestler” he draws from Robinson fragility and vulnerability, even tenderness, that can only provoke a sympathetic wince from audiences.
For Rourke has made a comeback with serious Oscar beef. And in an awards season largely devoid of last year's clutch of masculine features -- “No Country For Old Men”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Eastern Promises” -- his performance sets him well apart from rival nominees. Whether that will help him with awards voters is another issue.
As movie resurrections go, Rourke's performance is up there with Oscar-nominee John Travolta's turn in the higher-profile “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which helped parlay his then-stranded career into longer-term gains. Here's hoping Rourke can do similar.