Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was a world-wrestling champion 20 years ago. Now he shuffles along between bouts, accepting the goodwill and respect of the up and comers in the game as he checks his hearing aid and sometimes considers whether or not he will be locked out of his trailer because the rent is too far past due. Randy has quiet affection for Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper and pole dancer who, like Randy, is on the downside of things.
At first glance, this isn’t the most likely story for director Darren Aronofsky to tackle, especially after The Fountain, his beautifully trippy quest for love and eternity. But The Wrestler plays like a heady fusion of Rocky and Requiem for a Dream, and as icing on this bittersweet treat there’s the too-plain comparisons between Randy’s narrative second chance and the redemption that has come to Rourke after years of wandering far off the Hollywood reservation.
This film, though, is only the next step in Rourke’s steady climb back, following his strong turns in Domino and Sin City.
It seems he’s hit box-office pay dirt, snagging a plum role as the villain in the Iron Man sequel, which will pair him up with Robert Downey Jr., another lost soul on the comeback trail. But Rourke and Tomei earn the accolades by joining Aronofsky on a journey that imitates documentary filmmaking in its approach rather than attempting to wring unnecessary sentiment, and they all beat the odds. (tt stern-enzi) Grade: A-