The Wrestler opens with a montage of tacky posters of pro wrestler Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Rourke) in his heyday but that's the only glory he's allowed. Once this title sequence finishes its back to earth with a bang: Twenty years later and The Ram is on the D circuit, sitting in a kindergarten classroom nursing himself after an exhibition fight he's paid pittance to take part in. He sits with back to us, as if he's ashamed of what he's become or what he's thrown away and can't look us in the eye. Randy now works part time in a grocery store, is living in a trailer park where he struggles to meet the rent, is addicted to prescription pills, and hangs out at the local bar where he flirts with stripper Cassidy (Tomei). When he suffers a heart attack after one violent match, Randy decides to make good with his estranged daughter (Wood) and earn some serious cash from a final contest with his one-time in-ring nemesis, the Ayatollah, before calling it quits. If those broad strokes sound like a conventional Rocky story, The Wrestler's charms are in the details with the biggest detail being Rourke's performance. Rourke's battered physique might look tough but, like Randy's former occupation, it's all show; Randy's heart is as big and hopeful as a child's, which is why Aronofsky has him sitting in a child's chair in his first scene. It's hard to nail down what makes Rourke so special here - but believing that an actor is the character they're playing during the film's duration is probably the greatest compliment you can give to their performance. After all the crap Rourke has gone through since the '80s (just like The Ram) it's surprising he can still deliver a performance so delicate and understated. Tomei is the other surprise. Her Cassidy, like The Ram, is over the hill and is doing everything in her power to stave off middle age and it's this unspoken common ground that's the catalyst for their relationship. It's a tough, grim and sometimes heartless film - Randy finds that the real world is often crueller than anything that happens in the ring - but in that Aronofsky and his writer Robert D. Siegel find warmth, tenderness and hilarity (the wrestlers planning out their moves for their upcoming matches are a real giggle) in all the right places. One of those rare films where everything that happens on screen is believable.
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