Requiem for a Heavyweight
The Long Term Method-Acting Project Known As Mickey Rourke Goes For The Gold
Mickey Rourke's face can be hard to look at; lumpy and seamed, skin stretched into a mask with uncomfortable-looking tight patches; arguably a roadmap of hard miles and a life of furious dissipation, but still, there's a twinkle in those eyes over a crooked grin; apparently an appearance perfectly suited to house Randy "The Ram" Robinson, the Mickey Rourke-powered lead action figure in director Darren Aronofsky's (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) bleak, strangely inspiring tale of a lonely man struggling with advancing age and a desperate dedication to the brutal grind of professional wrestling, which--while scripted entertainment--is not inconsiderably dangerous and damaging, frequently involving disquieting acts of self-mutilation, all the better to heighten the illusion of super-powered blood sport/morality plays.
At this point in his life, the Ram is a good guy, a hulking jock going to seed, good-natured and unassuming outside the ring, working a day job, enduring slings and arrows at the hands of a hateful supervisor (played with we-worked-for-this-guy accuracy by the prick-tacular Todd Barry), making just enough dough to allow for weekend gigs in small-market wrestling, busting his ass taking hard falls and folding chairs across the back in various high school auditoriums and rec centers, maintaining contact with what's left of his fan base to sell T-shirts and autographs, and, most importantly, keeping his membership active in the weird fraternity of big men in tights who live to play at beating the shit out of each other.
In the twilight of a career featuring all the excess one would expect in the entertainment industry, along with the accrual of considerable debilitating sports and, uh, performance enhancing-related injuries, Ram has--surprise--managed to alienate people who should love him, such as his daughter Stephanie, unevenly portrayed by Evan Rachel Wood (Running With Scissors, Across the Universe), who seems to be forcing some sort of regional accent, but Ms. Wood's miscue doesn't dilute the compelling pathos of absentee dad Randy the Ram trying to salvage a relationship with his neglected child.
Meanwhile, let's agree as a nation to stop being surprised at how smokin' hot Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, Slums of Beverly Hills, television's Rescue Me, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) is, even under the constraints of her role as Cassidy, a single-mom exotic dancer feeling the pressure not to overstay her welcome in an industry fueled by youth. Refreshingly, this movie does not attack, defend, or explain stripping any more than it does pro wrestling. Cassidy and the Ram are in show business, and while Rourke's scenes with Tomei's world-weary Cassidy feel at times forced and rushed, they coalesce into a picture of an awkward, unsure courtship for which director Aronofsky's impeccable mise-en-scene and cunning sound design provide a pitch-perfect setting, although it isn't very pretty, and that goes double for the unvarnished strip-joint scenes, and triple for the intermittent wrestling action, which is graphically violent and, yeah, solidly and viscerally entertaining as far as wrasslin' action goes.
Which brings us back to Randy the Ram and Mr. Rourke, who has found, in his acting method, a way to display a deep connection with a man suffering profound loss, loneliness, and fear, but still finds a way to smile; a man willing to endure numerous humiliations and mortifications of the flesh to remain part of the thing that gives him purpose: performance.