Should Mickey Rourke have won the Oscar for his performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson? The answer is: Dunno, but it’s kind of a shame he didn’t. Rourke’s life has been as abusive as The Ram’s, his checkered backstory wears over his thick ox-hide face as if tailor-made for the role. Hell, even his level of mystique fits the bill. Darren Aronofsky had the stones to see all of this, and gave Rourke the role on the promise of genuine effort. The aftermath, of course, is that everyone is a genius. Rourke turns in a once-in-a-lifetime role as a pro wrestler who is on the backside of a glorious career—or, a cultish career that he knows as a long-ingrained reality (drugs, body slams, staple guns, bleach). Meanwhile, the world outside is infinitely strange—and even estranged daughters (Evan Rachel Wood) and aging strippers (Marisa Tomei) are not exactly embracing to washed-up rasslers with zero talent away from turn-buckles and scripts. Aronofsky—never known to go in for feel-good conventions—strains Rourke through the stages of depression, guilt, convalescence, mania and, new to the field, optimism. Filmed with handhelds in “pro-active documentary” fashion (Aronofsky’s words)—the film succeeds because it hangs on the overwashing feeling of what it means to be pathetic, and moreover, how sincerity can emerge so conflictively from something staged. (Red Vaughn)
Extras: Within the Ring, a making-of doc that wisely captures the shoestring aspect of the shoot, rather than the usual back-patting of the stars, and a Springsteen music video.