Darren Aronofsky went back to the drawing board on “The Wrestler,” a film that swims in nuance, spearheaded by a performance of grace and subtle charisma.
After “The Fountain” failed to catch on in any meaningful way (though this viewer considered it one of the best films of 2006), the director ravaged by a studio system that condensed his vision to an essence he wasn’t fully comfortable with, Aronofsky took up the reins of the most modest, straight-forward project he’s tackled in 10 years. The result is as affecting as it is numbing.
Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a one-time head of the class professional wrestler who makes his living (barely) working in the independent circuit. His body as beat up as Aronofsky’s confidence must have been two years ago (he wears a hearing aid as a result of his work description and the look of a broken mare across his face), Randy is in some ways the ultimate blue collar guy.
He gets by on what little income he can manage from his stake of this event gate or that, sleeping in his big Dodge van (a Ram, of course) when he isn’t able to meet the rent on his trailer. His afternoon hang-out is the local dive strip club where he is friendly with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), over the hill but with a goddess’s body and a heart of gold to match. She becomes even more attractive, somehow, with the revelation that she has a 9-year-old son, a point of connection for Randy, who has been estranged from his daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood) for many years.
Whether he’s playing an old Nintendo game featuring his younger self with a neighborhood kid or pouring through clothes at a vintage shop for a present for his daughter, Rourke sells the character as a part of himself. He owns the movie until its vague but poignant conclusion and the first few strums of Bruce Springsteen’s original track filter through over black.