Friday, February 20, 2009

The Wrestler

"Career Suicide"
"Falling at the Meat Market"

The body is bulked up like a Macy's balloon. The face is lumpy and puffed from bad plastic surgeries to enhance his cheek-bones. The voice is full of razor blades, punctuated by phlegm-caked gasps. For awhile now, Mickey Rourke has only taken roles that hide his mangled features. But he's been never less than interesting in those roles (even when he's been less than intelligible). Whether with sunglasses or the elaborate make-up that turned him into Frank Miller's "Marv'" in Sin City,"* Mickey Rourke has hidden himself as he does his sporadic film work. Whatever demons drive the actor have made securing financing for films featuring him difficult at best.** There have been a lot of missed opportunities: can you imagine Mickey Rourke in a Quentin Tarantino film? There's a sleaze-match made in back-water heaven.

So, here he is, Main-Eventing "The Wrestler," freak-showed out, his face obscured for the first few minutes of the film, as if delaying the inevitable and pretty soon,
you ignore the puffery and start to see the performance, as restrained and gentle as anything he's done in years. He's getting all the acclaim for the film's "broken-down piece of meat" scene in the trailers, but there are moments of brilliance here—the animal-eye-of-panic that occasionally creeps out of Robin ("Call me 'Randy'") Ramzinski, aka Randy "The Ram" Robinson during a match, and an extended scene that begins as "The Ram," a heart attack forcing his retirement, steels himself for a shift working the deli counter at his day-job super-market. He spends a sullen couple of hours learning the ropes, and then—Ram-Jam!—his natural entertainer's instincts kick in as he starts dealing with customers. It's a scene that brings out a smile because Rourke is ad-libbing his way through it, glorying in the eccentricity of it all. It's as good as it gets for Rourke and his anti-Rocky character.

It is not fair to say that Rourke is the only reason to see "
The Wrestler." Marisa Tomei does good tough work here as a working-class stripper, and Evan Rachel Wood makes a lot of the under-written role of Randy's estranged daughter. And while Darren Aronofsky became overly-stagey in his last film "The Fountain," here he's dogging Rourke's path with tight point-of-view compositions that breaks the faykabe and paints the world of the small-time pro wrestler—at least from the point-of-view of a face at House shows.. The petty rivalries and the macho camaraderie, the brief pre-show negotiated calls, and the sweaty stage-craft of brutality are all on hand-held de-glammed display. It's a world of soiled bandages and card-tables and getting back into the ring. It's as sordid a picture as Aronofsky can make it, but it doesn't hide the moments of personal grace between screw-ups and free-falls. It also shows that the biggest falls these post-modern gladiators take are the self-inflicted ones. It's final shot is one I've been thinking about for days.

"The Wrestler" is a Matinee. Not quite top of the card.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
Mickey Rourke as he appeared in "Diner"

* The man even did his press interviews for the film in the camouflaging "Marv" make-up. How twisted is that?

** He was nearly fired from "The Wrestler" even after Arronofsky had secured a deal for making it for less money than intended. The actor in the wings? Rourke's "Rumble Fish" co-star Nicolas Cage.

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