It’s stating the obvious to say that Mickey Rourke is the only actor working today who could have starred in “The Wrestler.” The parallels between the careers of Randy “Ram” Robinson and Rourke are so striking that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Those parallels lend the movie its power, a power that it otherwise might not have had. And while I’ve yet to see Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance in “Milk,” I find it hard to believe that Penn’s performance was up to the level of Rourke’s.
It’s a cliché, but in this case it’s true – the screen comes alive when Rourke is on it, and in “The Wrestler” he’s in nearly every scene. Darren Aronofsky’s story is far from sentimental; “The Wrestler” feels almost like the polar opposite of “Rocky.” That’s not a criticism of “Rocky,” but just a way to point out that “The Wrestler” is not about feel-good moments. There are small triumphs, but those are few and far between, and are usually followed by failure, frustration, or even humiliation.
There are times when the emotions feel so real that it’s difficult to watch what is unfolding. But whether it’s the violence of the wrestling scenes, the tenderness (and later on, pain) of the scenes with his estranged daughter, or the camaraderie with the fellow wrestlers, it always feels real – this is a person who wants to do better, but at the same time recognizes that maybe he just doesn’t have it in him. And all along, deep down he knows there is but one thing that he does truly well.
Marisa Tomei also deserves major kudos for her role as Cassidy, the stripper who in lesser hands might have nothing more than the “stripper with a heart of gold” cliché. Aronofsky’s script never lets Cassidy descend to that level, and as played by Tomei the character is a perfect counterpart to Rourke’s Robinson.
One can only hope that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Rourke.