‘The Wrestler’ rejuvinates Rourke’s flagging career

In theaters now is Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” a low-budget film focusing on the career comeback of pro-wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Unlike the visually-evocative psychological dramas he has previously created, the director drifts into unfamiliar territory and inevitably delivers his most human picture to date.

While he was probably a phenomenal wrestler during his tenure in the big show, it seems “The Ram” never reached the level of such superstars as Hulk Hogan.

Born out of the early WrestleMania years, Robinson’s star has almost faded. Unable to sell seats in the same coliseums and arenas he used to pack, he moves into a different phase of the sport, fighting in matches housed in VFWs and promoted in local diners.

Although it may be staged and its legitimacy is often questioned, the sport of wrestling requires a certain degree of athleticism in order to perform a suplex or take a heel to the chest.

Before the first match of the film, Aronofsky reveals how “fake” the event is, but it is not to mock the sport or to criticize it. It is simply to provide insight.

Robinson’s thirst to restore his weakened career pushes him to enter the world of hardcore wrestling, eventually leading to unfortunate consequences after a vicious bout with fellow pugilist, Necro Butcher.

Coming off a win for Best Actor at the Golden Globes, “The Wrestler” is being billed as the return of Mickey Rourke. With major roles in such motion pictures as “9 ? Weeks,” Rourke was considered a hot commodity in the early ’90s. That was until his celebrity status imploded in the wake of several highly reported meltdowns, including an in-print attack on Hollywood royalty, Sam Goldwyn.

Even if the Oscar season of December to February is to only push anticipation for Tinseltown’s annual salute to itself, there are generally one or two films each year that live up to every word of hype that is uttered about them. This year, “The Wrestler” is most definitely one of those films.

The story of a man trying to redeem himself in a business that has forgotten him – could there be anyone who relates to this concept more than Mickey Rourke?

Along his way to the comeback match, Rourke’s character finds a kindred spirit in Cassidy, an aging stripper played by Marisa Tomei. Cassidy complements “The Ram” so flawlessly in that they both secretly know how it feels to be a disposable personality, easily forgotten and effortlessly discarded, much like a crippled greyhound at a dog track.

Overall, the aesthetic of this film is just as ugly and tarnished as the people that inhabit it. Excluding Bruce Springsteen’s original track that plays over the end credits, it is action-packed with a slew of songs by tacky hair bands such as Ratt and Quiet Riot. And it seems as though it was shot in a palette of colors resembling a 1980s arcade cabinet – lots of cheap, wood paneling and bright fluorescent oranges, blues and reds.

Even though the movie itself feels lived in, antiquated and unattractive, it never demeans or detracts from the redemption that its main character seeks.