The Wrestler: The Triumphant Return of Mickey Rourke
A little over twenty years ago I posited a theory that the future of American film acting (interesting American film acting) lay firmly in the hands of two men; Mickey Rourke and Crispin Glover.
Rourke was on a cinematic hot streak unlike anyone since Brando in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
I likened Mickey to Marlon. The energy, the anger, the aloofness.
From 1981 (when I first saw him as an arsonist in Body Heat) to 1987, he starred, ran and shined in Diner, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Year of the Dragon (terrible movie, great performance), Nine ½ Weeks, Angel Heart and Barfly.
I defy anyone to name me a better string of performances from a male actor in film.
Then came the bad role selections, the misguided stint into boxing, the fey appearances avec Chihuahua on Letterman, the substance abuse and the endless cycle of plastic surgeries.
As the ’90s hit, he began taking courses at the McLean Stevenson-Michael Jackson Institute for Career Suicide.
Crispin Glover on the other hand, brilliant in the late ‘80s Indie’s River’s Edge and Twister (not the Helen Hunt tornado fiasco), just kept getting weirder and weirder and weirder.
My theory was beginning to unravel.
After seeing Rourke’s performance in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, I’m feeling a bit more vindicated and a little less crazy.
In my defense, I was doing a lot of cocaine back then.
Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler is a monster. Unfortunately, it is tethered to a very lazy and clichéd film.
For all its independent posing, grainy stock, offbeat themes, characters, general sense of misery, disenfranchisement, and internal suffering, the peripheral storylines are as trite as a soap opera.
Marisa Tomei’s talents (Jesus, I never thought I’d write those words after My Cousin Vinny) are wasted as the stripper/love-interest with a heart of gold who, you know, wants out of her sleazy business… for her kid, for her kid.
The neglected/put-upon daughter role goes to Evan Rachel Wood (does she play anything else or sans black nail polish?) who’s Daddy was too busy doing drugs, body slamming nefarious sheiks and banging waitresses to take pictures at her prom and show up with bicycles and ponies on her birthday. She appropriately hates him for the abandonment, but do I need to see it?
Maybe in a Spielberg diversion. But not in this film.
The only thread that holds is the gritty character study of the antihero, Rourke’s flagging pro wrestler, Randy “The Ram” Robinson.
He’s aging ungracefully. The body’s still there, perhaps a little flabbier and worse for wear, but the constant steroid abuse, heart problems and dirty living are catching up.
His former fame on the circuit allows him a small cadre of loser, hangers-on fans, but the arenas are now legion halls and high school gyms. The money and fame are tighter. The body and spirit grow weaker. The memories become everything; once glorious, now distant and tearfully nostalgic.
We watch “The Ram” through his day to day; his need to stay in “the show”, his preparations involving tanning beds, dying his leonine mane blonde, working out, purchasing “performance enhancers”, camaraderie with his fellow wrestlers, verbally and physically staging the matches, being a pathetic hero to the kids in his trailer park and humbly asking for more hours at the local supermarket where he part-times.
And there is the matter of those bizarre fingernails; unnaturally white, large, obtuse and not belonging to the hands.
Rourke’s performance is physically brutal and psychically tender.
The part was written for him and it shows.
An aging man basking in former glory, but regretful of the life choices he’s made.
A consistently hardworking performer enamored with stardom, confused by normalcy and victim to a junkie’s thirst for more.
This is what makes for great film acting.
And why Mickey Rourke, when the Hollywood scorekeeper tolls his bell, will be right there with Brando, Bogey, Grant, Stewart, Nicholson, Tracy, Penn, DeNiro, Pacino, Hackman, Duvall and Glover (Crispin not Danny).
Sometimes I just can’t quit a theory.
One more point of interest.
The film, despite its bouts with triteness, is also educational.
Come to find out, this whole pro wrestling biz...all a big fake!
Who’d a thunk?