The Wrestler

I missed this first time round but watched it on DVD last night. Funnily enough, I watched Crazy Heart the night before and the two films felt very much of the same sentiment.

Sean Penn won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk in Milk which was a great performance but I think the Academy must have debated long and hard who give it to.  I think they made the wrong choice because although both Penn and Mickey Rourke actors carry their respective movies Penn’s portrayal was more of an impersonation; Rourke’s is a possession.

The story follows the fictional comeback years of a once great Wrestler (The Ram) who still has a loyal following and top billing, but in provincial events where the new generation are creating ever more bizarre wrestling characters with weirder and weirder means of entertaining their audiences.  A life time of substance abuse has rendered The Ram susceptible to too much exertion and it is when he faces the “Necro Butcher” and his unorthodox method of staple gunning (with permission of course) his opponents that it all gets too much for Rourke and he suffers a heart attack that needs a bypass to save his life.

The operation brings him briefly to his senses and so we enter act 2 in which he tries to rekindle love in his life for his 21 year old daughter (nicely played by Evan Rachel Wood) and his “tart with a heart” lap dancing on-off flame.

Marisa Tomie, who plays the part, is awesome and certainly deserved her Oscar nomination; sadly she too failed to convert.  But it’s all too much for both The Ram and his Beaus.  The lure of the ring finally gets him back with a hair raising finale in which he takes on his old enemy “The Ayatollah” in a  stage managed fiasco that simply breaks the heart.

This is a stunning character piece played by an actor who has made more comebacks than the character he lays.  But Rourke is godlike.  It is intensely reminiscent of De Nero’s performance in Raging Bull not just because of the subject matter but for the commitment that both men put into their job.  At 56 this was surely an even greater feat by Rourke than the then still young De Nero.  But the film is more than a testosterone laden gross out.  It’s a heartfelt and beautiful study of failure in life, in love and in everything except integrity.

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