MOVIES | Mickey Rourke is at the peak of his game in “The Wrestler”

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In his first leading role in over a decade, Mickey Rourke gives the best performance of 2008 in The Wrestler—it’s also perhaps the best in Rourke’s topsy-turvy acting career. Rourke’s portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson suits his bruised persona perfectly in this underdog story that rises above your average broken-down character study.

the wrestler, a movie directed by darren aronofsky. now playing at the uptown theatre, 2906 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for information, see landmarktheatres.com.

Best known for the idiosyncratic style he demonstrated in his previous films (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain), director Darren Aronofsky sticks to a traditional narrative as he works for the first time from someone else’s script. (The screenwriter is Robert Siegel, formerly chief editor at The Onion.) Aronofsky should be given high praise for showcasing Rourke’s ability to convey a tenacious side in the ring and a tenderness outside.

Randy is a wrestler past his prime, but he lives and strives for a final comeback, a chance to get back into the limelight. As the film opens, he is wrestling at VFWs and small arenas that are more suited for wrestlers who are just getting into wrestling—or are washed up. Even if Randy struggles with health concerns, it still doesn’t take the bark out of the old mutt. When Randy goes to visit a friendly stripper—played by a vamped-up Marisa Tomei—she encourages him to reunite with his estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), who really doesn’t want anything to do with him since he abandoned her to pursue his wrestling career. “The Ram” was a god at one point in his career with a killer finishing move, “The Ram Jam,” but wrestling also destroyed his family and his health and has left him just about penniless. Nonetheless, his will and determination keep him going as he starts to reconnect to life outside of wrestling.

There are many powerful scenes throughout The Wrestler, but the story isn’t all that original—and in some ways is outright clichéd. (The stripper with the heart of gold—how many of those have we seen before?) The subplot involving Randy’s daughter feels shoehorned into the story. Still, The Wrestler is a really strong American film that just missed making my top ten, mostly due to Rourke’s raw intensity. And don’t leave when the credits roll—stick around to hear Bruce Springsteen’s amazing title song that describes not only “The Ram” but anyone who refuses to give up.

Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins@yahoo.com) writes on film for the Daily Planet and hosts KFAI’s Movie Talk. He is the son of former AWA and WWF pro wrestler “Jumping” Jim Brunzell.

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