THE WRESTLER:

Despite the movie’s title, professional wrestling serves as a mere backdrop for a story that’s really about an “entertainer” faced with losing a livelihood that’s his only true joy. Director/Writer Darren Aronofsky’s (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) screenplay begins with a conventional, uninterrupted shot of ‘80s newspaper clippings chronicling the exploits of a popular Ric Flair-type wrestler known as Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke). This segues into the opening scene that finds the title character after a match in a New Jersey elementary classroom functioning as a makeshift locker room. After illustrating how far a once-famous celebrity has fallen, most movies take the route of giving the “has-been” a chance to make the kind of comeback geared to put him back on the radar. But this plot takes a different route when the prospect of being unable to ply his trade forces Rourke’s (BODY HEAT) character to try desperately to hang on to the lower rung of the entertainment ladder that he was already occupying. Subplots about “The Ram’s” relationship with a stripper (Marisa Tomei) and his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) are well-developed in their purpose of demonstrating the wrestler’s fear of facing a solitary death. Forget the ongoing back story of how this film parallels Rourke’s real-life fall from Hollywood grace. (See sidebar below). Rourke, the actor, never enjoyed the adulation and fame that his character is depicted to have received two decades ago so his excellent performance here should be appreciated on its own terms. Ditto for the rest of the cast and the ‘80s laden soundtrack which acts to show a primary character still emotionally attached to a time in his life that represented the zenith of his accomplishment and fame which is now beyond his grasp.

MOVIES THAT NEARLY WRECKED MICKEY ROURKE’S CAREER: HEAVEN’S GATE (1981), 9 WEEKS (1986), PRAYER FOR THE DYING (1987), FRANCESCO (1989), JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989), WILD ORCHID (1990), DESPERATE HOURS (1990), HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991), DOUBLE TEAM (1997), BUFFALO 66 (1997). (There are more, but I don’t have enough space.)