‘What happened, did the price of tights go up?’ a sneering store-manager taunts Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (Mickey Rourke) when the impoverished wrestling star comes looking for work. Fighting a losing battle with his own finances, Randy trades on vulgar past glories by taking regular beatings on the independent wrestling circuit. Not averse to carving wounds in his forehead with a razor to simulate
serious head-trauma, The Ram hits rock bottom after a skin-shreddingencounter with a sadomasochist rival wielding a staple gun, a glass door and a stepladder. Weakened by a heart bypass operation, Randy ends up tradinghis day-glo leggings for an apron-and-hairnet combo, working behind the corner of a local deli.
The traditional ‘boxer one punch away from death’ formula provides a salty mix of brutal comedy and subtle tragedy in Darren Aronofsky’s accomplished character study. After the arty pretension of Pi, Requiem For A Dream and The Fountain, Aronofsky has successfully toned down his high-minded ideas, and coaxes a crowd-pleasing performance from an ideally cast Rourke.
Much like Randy, Rourke’s 1980’s heyday in films such as Angel Heart or Rumblefish led to decades of shambling self-parody, but The Wrestler provides perfect comeback material. Down on his luck but never a downer, Randy’s colourful, irrepressible chutzpah places him alongside Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson at the seedier end of cinema’s sporting heroes; as Randy pinballs between his sullen daughter (Rachel Evan Wood) and aging stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), Rourke and Aronofsky imbue The Wrestler’s struggle with realism, fight, and a big vulnerable heart.
General release from Fri 16 Jan.