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Vol. LXIII, No. 4
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

RANDY “THE RAM” TRIES TO RISE AGAIN: Randy Robinson (Mickey Rourke) makes an attempt to resuscitate his career as a famous wrestler after his star faded when he gave in to the temptations that came his way when he was a young, successful up- and-coming wrestler.

The Wrestler: Mickey Rourke Resuscitates Career in Comeback Kid Role

Rarely does the trajectory of an actor’s life parallel that of a person he’s portraying on screen as closely as Mickey Rourke’s does in this intriguing character study that shows how easily self-abuse can lead to lost opportunities and regrets. After a spectacular start in Hollywood in the eighties, Rourke spent most of the next twenty years battling the demons which have torpedoed his promising beginning.

Therefore, while watching The Wrestler, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between the title character’s quest for redemption and Rourke’s bid to make a comeback in his career. Perhaps his recent Oscar nomination for his part in the film is a tribute to his impressive acting in the film and also recognition for Rourke’s success in being able to put his private life back in order.

In the film, he plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro wrestler past his prime who, at the peak of his fame, had sold out Madison Square Garden in a championship match. Now in his fifties and living in a trailer park in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Randy has a job stocking shelves at a supermarket in order to pay the rent, however, he also dreams of somehow recapturing the glory of his earlier successes.

In an attempt to revive his career he wrestles on weekends in small arenas and signs autographs for fans at memorabilia shows. Finally, a promoter offers to arrange a rematch against The Ayatollah (Ernest Miller), Randy’s arch-rival whom he hasn’t faced in twenty years.

Unfortunately, the road to resurrection is not only paved with good intentions and a rigorous training regimen, but also with plenty of potholes. Randy is evicted for falling behind in his rent, and has to live in his car. Then, while he is getting back in shape with the help of steroids, training with free weights, and using a tanning machine, he has a heart attack during a warm-up bout. After undergoing emergency bypass surgery, Randy’s surgeon tells him that it’s time give up his wrestling career.

Disconsolate, unemployed, and homeless, the ailing fighter finds sympathy for his plight from Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, who has also been nominated for an Oscar), a nightclub stripper with a heart of gold. However, because of her club’s strict “No contact with the customers” rule, she’s afraid to meet with him privately. She does suggest that he search for his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) since, “This kind of thing brings people together.”

But, when his attempt at reconciliation fails, Randy reaches rock bottom, and describes himself as “… a broken down old piece of meat, and I’m alone.” With nothing left to lose, the only question left unanswered is: will “The Ram” return to the ring for the scheduled rematch with his nemesis, or will he heed his doctor’s orders and fade into the sunset?

Though undeniably raw, realistic, and relentlessly grim, The Wrestler is also a riveting and emotionally engaging film which never hits a false note. Credit goes to Mickey Rourke for the pain etched in his face in every frame. His acting makes it easy to forget that the story involves a “sport” in which every contest is choreographed and the outcome of each match is fixed in advance.

Fortunately, director Darren Aronofsky was able to see Rourke’s potential to play the part of a washed-up has-been desperate for a last shot at redemption, a role that wasn’t much of a stretch for him.

Excellent (four stars). Rated R for violence, nudity, sexuality, profanity, and drug use. Running time: 115 minutes. Studio: Fox Searchlight.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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