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Capone declares Mickey Rourke's performance in THE WRESTLER the finest acting of 2008!!! The movie's not bad either...

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. Mickey Rourke is the goddamned king of the universe, both in and out of the ring. When I first saw his performance in Darren Aronofsky's THE WRESTLER back in October, I felt like I was witnessing an actor literally willing to lay waste to his own body and guts just to get back his rightful place in the acting pantheon. And so he has. When I tell people about a new film starring Rourke, they often reply, "I'm not a big Mickey Rourke fan." To which I reply, "Well, that's because you haven't seen THE WRESTLER, you closed-minded prick." There is such an honestly to his work here that it's like watching an exposed raw nerve get hit repeatedly until it's numb from the pain. Some people drink, some do drugs, but Randy "The Ram" Robinson allows himself to get beaten and bloody on the wrestling mat. The Ram was a god among men, as an opening credits montage shows us as it scans across dozens of newspaper and wrestling magazine clippings declaring Robinson wrestler of the year sometime in the mid-1980s. At first Aronofsky simply refuses to show us Robinson's face. His favorite place to reside throughout the film is behind the head and shoulders of The Ram, and that's where the film begins. We see the dreary life of a faded sports entertainer just as he sees it. We notice that the roots of his flowing blonde hair are showing, his tanning-bed tan is fading, and his scars are plentiful. When we finally do get to see The Ram, it's startling because Rourke's face has changed so very much. Whether it's from years of boxing or perhaps botched plastic surgery, the grippingly handsome man from BODY HEAT, DINER, RUMBLE FISH, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE, and ANGEL HEART isn't there any more, at least not physically. What is left for both Rourke and Robinson is a face that wears its years, both the good ones and the awful ones. There has simply never been a more perfect connection between actor and material than THE WRESTLER in as long as I can remember. Rourke plays this man so convincingly because he's lived his life and known his highs and lows. The few vestiges of hope that The Ram has in his life take the form of two women. One is a sweet, older, but still gorgeous stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) who takes pity on the man and actually hangs out with Randy outside the club one time, but withdraws into her "I don't date customers" rule when she senses things are getting too serious between them. The other is Randy's estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), a college student who has managed just fine without her father around, but clearly the pain of missing him when she was younger still impacts her life deeply. Both women want very much to love this man, and for totally different reasons they find it near impossible to do so. Tomei's Madonna/whore performance is one of the best of her career; while she looks miraculous without clothes on, she does her best work in a bulky winter coat walking the chilly winter streets of New Jersey. I almost wish there was one more scene with Wood to let us know her brief encounter with her father didn't fuck her up beyond hope, but in the end, I guess that's the point. We don't know, so we assume the worse. Aronofsky is working from a beautiful script from Robert D. Siegel, a former editor-in-chief at The Onion, who clearly did his research into the downright grueling and dehumanizing grind these old wrestlers go through on the autograph and memorabilia circuit. There is one scene at an American Legion hall where The Ram sits at a meet-and-greet event with other decrepit former wrestlers, and he looks around the room silently. Aronofsky isn't in a hurry to run through the various elements of Randy's life. He shows us with a documentarian's eye the day-to-day existence of this man who blazes through a pharmacy's worth of pain killers, performance enhancing drugs and who knows what else. It's both sad and fascinating in equal measures. Nothing about the film feels inauthentic, and that's what elevates this little film to a grand masterpiece. Those of you who count yourselves as die-hard Darren (PI, REQUIEUM FOR A DREAM, THE FOUNTAIN) Aronofsky worshipers (I include myself in that club) will probably be a bit shocked by the style of the film. He is a fly on the wall in most scenes, the quiet non-judgmental observer who lets the events unfold as they may. It feels like he is in no way directing the action, just recording it. It's strange at first to realize how loose the director makes his film and actors feel. There's clearly a great deal of improvising going on, but it's all in the name of getting to best out of Rourke, who has never been more in his element. These two should just keep making movies together from this day forward; there's a clear trust between the two that makes your heart weep for the perfection of it all. One of the final scenes of THE WRESTLER is a speech Rourke gives at a big comeback match after his character has gone through some pretty life-altering health issues. Nothing that has happened in the film up to that point has led us to believe that The Ram would ever be capable of making a speech quite as eloquent. So the natural conclusion I came to was that the words and the sentiments are Rourke's, and he's addressing his audience directly. It is, perhaps, the single greatest film moment of 2008, and I knew even before I was told that the words Rourke is speaking were in no way scripted. I dare you to watch the scene and not simply lay all acting crowns down at this man's feet. Do not miss it. -- Capone

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