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The Wrestler

You’ll Hit the Mat in No Time

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

The biggest selling point for this film has been the return of Mickey Rourke. Since his rise to fame in the 80s he’s become more of a Hollywood legend for his off screen antics, rather than for his on screen performances. Well, as he proves in The Wrestler, Rourke was once also a demanding figure on screen. However, this film is a return for director Darren Aronofsky as well. His last film, The Fountain, while finding a cult following, threw off many fans of Requiem for a Dream and Pi. Following the psychological, sci-fi of The Fountain he decided to work with a very small budget and create a character piece -- an actor’s film -- and he did just that.

Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a once famous pro wrestler, who’s far past his prime but is unable to let go. He works part time at a local grocery store while still attending small time wrestling matches on nights and weekends, the only time he really feels alive. The few fans he has left cheer him on and he basks in the fading glory. He walks the fine line between being a complete has-been and someone whose dream was wrongly shattered. Without the light of fame on him, The Ram comes to terms with all the sins he committed as a younger, more successful man. Despite what we find out, like the abandonment of his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), we still want him to find redemption. Even as he continues to screw up their relationship, we’re cheering for him, like one of his aging fans, to come out victoriously.

His journey is paralleled by stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), who is also holding onto a profession that doesn’t accept the aging process. Their relationship is much deeper and complicated than either would like to admit, and as both are looking for the correct paths to lead them to a more fulfilling life, their lives become even more intertwined. The connection between Rourke and Tomei is phenomenal. It feels true and fleeting at the same time -- Cassidy is always one step ahead of The Ram, but the viewer sees what both are continuously blind to.

While the film succeeds due to the actors’ performances, Aronofsky creates a film where that is able to happen. It’s gritty and it’s unreservedly real. He produces a film that feels more like a documentary, allowing the characters to become real people fulfilling their own desires and making their own choices. Rourke is so convincing as The Ram that you forget he’s an actor playing a part. Through expertise filmmaking and painfully real acting, Aronofsky and Rourke allow The Ram to live and breathe, and that is a feat only great filmmakers can achieve.