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The Wrestler

Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)

Here's my Film Chat about The Wrestler . Take a listen and then watch the interviews with Darren Aronofsky and Marisa Tomei.

If you remember Mickey Rourke as the sweet faced arsonist with the soft, sexy voice in Body Heat or as the womanizing Boogie in Diner , you might not recognize him in his latest film The Wrestler in which he plays a beat up and tired veteran of the wrestling circuit. The performance has been generating a lot of awards buzz. & This is one of those career defining roles where the part and the person come perfectly together. Rourke has been off the radar for years with Hollywood essentially writing him off. But director Darren Aronofsky insisted that he play the lead in The Wrestler based on the actor's work from the 80s, work that Aronofsky calls "rich and dangerous yet incredibly vulnerable and sexy."

Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a wrestler who once had some fame and glory and who - like Rourke - is trying to make a comeback. Aronofsky says he thought wrestling was a fascinating subject that hadn't been fully explored in feature films. He also wanted to get into what it's really like on the wrestling circuit: the camaraderie, the injuries, the showmanship. He felt it mixed sports with theater. The revelation for me was that although the fights were fixed the wrestlers still were vulnerable to severe injury. Running something os a parallel course in teh film is the stripper played by Marisa Tomei. Both her character Cassady and Randy are at a crossroads in their life because they work in professions where it gets more difficult with each passing year.

The film is worth seeing for Rourke and for the relationship between Randy and Cassady. When it sticks to them, it's very strong. But it falls into clich e when dealing with Randy's daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood). When Randy tells his daughter that he's just a "beat up old piece of meat" and all he wants is that she not hate him, it's a line that feels contrived and sentimental. But these false moments are few and easy to ignore in light of what the film does well. Aronofsky and Rourke serve up a fascinating window onto the wrestling world, showing us how the fighters work together on the fight choreography, the injuries they sustain, the drugs they use to keep them going, and the limited options they face. There are brilliant and painful scenes in the ring and at mini-conventions where the broken down wrestlers try to sell autographs and VHS tapes of their fights. Rourke's performance is stunning. His careful use of things like Randy's hearing aid or reading glasses brings the character to vivid life. It's a performance that could have become pathetic but that's not where Rourke or Aronofsky wanted it to go. We feel compassion for Randy but we don't feel sorry for him because he's not a victim. He makes choices in his life -- often bad choices -- but he is the one making them and that keeps him from becoming a mere victim.

The Wrestler (rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use) is at its best depicting the wrestling circuit, which Aronofsky and Rourke took great pains to capture with a sense of authenticity.

Companion viewing: Body Heat, Diner, Champion

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