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"The Wrestler" ***1/2 (105 minutes)

Thursday January 29, 2009

Time to check out the myriad of Oscar nominated films that most seem to have come out within the past month (as usual). First off is the stunning new film by Darren Aronofsky-who was seen on the Golden Globe telecast lovingly flipping Mickey Rourke the bird during his well deserved Best Actor award speech. The director (who first made a splash in 1998 with the independent "Pi", winning the Sundance Directing Award), according to Mickey, is one tough director to work for-and didn't mind telling him that during the speech. But, in the end, Mickey, in my opinion has an excellent shot at coveting the AA in 3 weeks. His portrayal of down and out former wrestling star Rodney "The Ram" Robinson is one for the ages.

Most everyone knows the trials and tribulations bad boy Rourke has undertaken through the years. However, Aronofsky's faith in his ability convinced the talented, but troubled, star to put it all out on the screen. The result might just land the actor the top Hollywood award on his first try.

We first meet the 50ish wrestler plying his trade in a smokey minor league arena trying to make a buck. The wrestling scenes are among the hardest to watch in any film that I've ever seen (several people I was with were hiding their eyes during the proceedings). Our knowledge is that the performance is entirely scripted. Yes, the outcome is pre-determined. But what isn't is the brutal staging of the matches-complete with participants hiding a razor blade in their arm tapes to use on their own forehead to facilitate the bleeding.

Yes, blood is constantly spilled which will lead us to initially question why we plucked down our hard earned cash to take it all in. By the end, though, we have our answer. Rourke's character is as charismatic as any I've seen on the silver screen in many a moon. He's a loser who doesn't know anything in life but to ply his trade in the ring. He has pretty much screwed up everything else in his life outside of it. There is his daughter (played with the appropriate bitterness by Evan Rachel Wood) who wants nothing to do with him. There is the kindly stripper (played by Marisa Tomei, also AA nominated, who once again, as she did in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead", displays her well toned 44 year old body sans clothes nearly throughout) who treats The Ram as more than a customer-but at arm's length. And, when he can't make ends meet in the ring because of an unexpected heart attack, he fails at mundane jobs because, after all, life isn't scripted. Oh, he tries to right the wrong with his daughter and, just when you think he's succeeded-he finds a way to screw that up as well.

All throughout you sympathize with this lovable loser-wishing and hoping that somehow, someway he can put it all together. Does he do it? No spoiler here. Just pluck down your cash to see an acting tour-de-force by an actor who just might be playing himself in the long run.

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