Who would have thought it? After his once-thriving movie career collapsed, Mickey Rourke became a professional boxer and his screen star appeared to have set permanently.
Now, however, in the best tradition of Hollywood biopics, Rourke returns to the celluloid ring in triumph. Thanks to Darren Aronofsky’s exemplary direction and a powerful screenplay by Robert Siegel, he gives a detailed, affecting, surprisingly funny performance that has earned him a Golden Globe, should guarantee an Academy Award nomination and probably the best-actor Oscar itself.
Rourke is commanding as middle-aged, over-the hill professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson who works at a supermarket, wrestles for little money in minor venues at weekends and fantasises about returning to the big time.
His ageing body is a wreck. His personal life, too, is a mess. Locked out of his trailer home, he has to sleep in his car, his relationship with Marisa Tomei’s low-grade lap-dancer Cassidy is going nowhere, and he is estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
After a heart attack followed by a bypass, he tries to make peace with Stephanie and regain the big time in a rematch with a legendary opponent.
Siegel’s richly written, deceptively straightforward script, is essentially a familiar silver-screen fairytale which Rourke, giving an experience-induced performance of a lifetime, transforms into convincing tragedy. Tomei and Wood are first rate too.
Praise is also due to Aronofsky, impressively recovering from the unfortunate flop, The Fountain, with a display of faultless filmmaking (his use of hand-held cameras to draw viewers into the core of the drama is particularly striking). He has produced a genuine genre masterpiece.