The Wrestler (2008)

Mickey Rourke shines in cinematic smackdown…

Film history is littered with comebacks. From Katharine Hepburn, who turned her flagging career around with a self-deprecating performance in The Philadelphia Story, to John Travolta, who morphed from laughable Look Who’s Talking clown to the King of Cool with Pulp Fiction, it seems audiences love giving fallen stars a second chance – as long as they pick the right role, of course. And Mickey Rourke has done just that, as his portrayal of ageing wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson has not only bagged him a Golden Globe award and BAFTA nomination (and, most likely, an Oscar nod), but also proves to be one of the greatest comebacks of modern cinema.


Those who remember Rourke as the pretty boy from 9 1/2 Weeks are going to be in for a shock, as years of professional fighting have made the actor virtually unrecognizable. But his powerful screen presence and phenomenal performance instantly override any superficial surprise, as you can’t help but invest in his strong characterisation. The Ram is an ageing wrestler now working in a grocery story, well past his professional prime but still trying to capture the glory by taking part in small fights. When he suffers a life-changing setback, however, he attempts to connect both with his estranged daughter (Wood) and his favourite stripper (Tomei). But when he’s offered a high-profile rematch with his old nemesis, he struggles to choose between living a quiet life and continuing to chase his dreams possible stardom.

After the spiritual etherealness of his 2006 brain-bender The Fountain, director Darren Aronofsky serves up a visceral, brawny, brutal and physical portrait of a man desperately trying to find some meaning in a life that has been anything but normal. By taking a risk with his leading man, and letting Rourke and the story speak for themselves, Aronofsky never overcomplicates proceedings or leads it into melodrama. And his cast is excellent, with Wood and Tomei providing excellent, well-pitched support.

But this is, of course, Rourke’s moment. As the increasingly desperate and bewildered Ram he is aggressive and vulnerable, frightening and sympathetic as he struggles to find a place in a world that’s leaving him behind. And although there are some moments in The Wrestler that are difficult to watch, Rourke is absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. Welcome back.

5 stars

Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood
Director Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay Robert D Siegel
Certificate 15
Distributor Optimum Releasing
Running Time 1hr 49mins
January 16, 2009