Reviews - The Wrestler
Reviewed By John Stakes
For Rourke life has imitated this piece of film art in which he plays a washed up 80s loving 52 year old professional wrestler reduced to strutting his stage-managed stuff in exhibition bouts in dingy halls behind parking lots. Rourke’s own life following early successes in Nine and a Half Weeks and Angel Heart nose-dived along with the rest of his handsome looks as he drank and drugged himself into near oblivion. Whilst his Walla cragged face and rope-matted locks cannot hide the scars of these excesses, he has obviously and rewardingly spent long hours pumping iron to lick his body into the shape necessary to withstand the rigours and mutilations that are literally the staple diet of the American professional wrestling scene. Rourke has morphed himself into “mutton, dressed as steroid-injected lamb”!
The fight scenes were nothing less than stomach churning as staple guns, barbed wire and razor blades were deployed to whip the crowd into a state of feeding frenzy. All the world may be a stage but all the “Ram” required was one small canvas ring to fret and strut his half hour upon and, as he put it, to be in the one place where he felt at home. The outside world proved to be a far harsher environment which spat him out and pitched him back into the ring for a lucrative rematch with his old adversary of 20 years back “The Ayatollah”. The omens were bad as Randy had already suffered one heart attack and decided to re-enter the ring against doctors’ orders.
Not even mother of two and part time pole dancer girlfriend Cassidy (a fine performance from Marisa Tomei who was close to her own “best before” date) could persuade him to stay out of the ring. Director Darren Aronfosky eschewed the usual cliché-ridden happy ending climax by having Randy ignore the onset of a second heart attack to take his final leap from the top of the ropes in what can only be described as his death throw.
Rourke was magnificent and fully deserved his Bafta for best actor and Oscar nomination. Aronfosky rarely took his camera off the battlefield of his bruised and beaten face in the film’s 1hour 50 mins running time. It followed him everywhere. As dialogue was spare it was left to Rourke to exude and communicate his humanity as much through body language and facial expression as from the interpretation of the script. We were left in no doubt that here was a hugely damaged goods of a man, a prisoner of himself at fearful odds with the world, but with heart and soul and a capacity to take and feel buckets of physical and mental pain. The testimony to Rourke’s acting talent was his effortless ability to reveal the inner man in turmoil.
It will be fascinating to see whether, having been spring-boarded back into the limelight, Rourke will relish his second coming or succumb to his demons. Whatever else, having publicly said “I’d rather be dead than mellow”, Rourke will remain in one spotlight or another and continue to grab headlines.
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