Happy Boxing DayDecember 26, 2008
As the year winds down, the film I’m thinking about the most (granted I only saw it four days ago) is Darren Aronofsky’s beautiful passion play The Wrestler. It’s not a perfect film by any means: like the equally terrific Ballast, it worships at the temple of Dardennes (and the result is a film as un-Aronofskylike as you could imagine) but it misses the moral complexity of the Dardennes universe. Its story of a washed-up old pro attempting to mend fences with his estranged daughter verges on Hallmark and has moments of high fructose corn. But in its visual textures, incidental details and the sheer poignancy of its lead performance it is as good a film as I have seen all year. Maybe you have to have grown up with Mickey Rourke to fully appreciate this resurrection. Rourke was one of my favorite actors of the ’80s (in Diner and Angel Heart especially) and his betrayal of his talent was painful to watch. He is now a shadow of his former self, or, to be accurate, the ’80s Rourke was a shadow compared to the growling, hulking brute he is today. Gone is the lilting, purring voice that wooed Ellen Barkin and made him the softest of tough guys. And that sly, sweet smile has been pummelled into submission. To be honest Rourke needed do little more than shuffle onto the set to make this role work, but he inhabits it magnificently. Sean Penn’s transformation in Milk is equally miraculous, but I would imagine even Penn would be happy to see Mickey Rourke win an Oscar.