For director Darren Aronofsky, this is a real watershed for him in that it is the most direct, to-the-point, dramatic piece he has done so far. Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and The Fountain (2006) [my number #7 pick for 2006] have been very visually striking, surrealist pictures so far, so for him to do a simple drama about a simple wrestler is quite fascinating. After starring in various unheard of, subpar films for the last 10 years since his notable performance in Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker, actor Mickey Rourke gives one of the best performances not only of his career, but of this year as well. Randy "The Ram" Robinson is a professional wrestler who once was big in his youth, but now in middle age is something of an echo of a previous life.
The parallels between Rourke and Robinson's career paths couldn't be any more similar, and that is probably one of Rourke's great strengths to making a picture like this. As Van Damme does in JCVD (my #3 pick for this year), we have an actor here who is very aware of the mistakes he has made in his life, so every bit of that experience, loss, and personal disappoint are all channeled into the performance. It proves that we are all human, prone to mistakes, and very vulnerable to any valid argument made to us because it reflects a certain amount of truth. We can all learn from a person who is aware of this fact and is trying his best to right the wrongs in his life. When the wrestler realizes he is facing a serious health problem, he tries to give up his career in spite of everything he is trying to accomplish again. Comforting him along the way is a stripper called Cassidy (played by a vivacious Marissa Tomei), she appears to be a typical stereotype of a 'prostitute with a heart of gold,' but is as conflicted and as inconsistent as Randy himself. Even though this film centers around this wrestler, the people Randy interacts with all seem to have the same social problems as him. Randy's daughter, Stephanie (played by Evan Rachel Wood in one of her best performances), tends to run away from her problems and shuts out her father whenever he fouls up. Randy seems to be more comfortable in his skin than those closest to him, and there is something quite admirable in a man who is willing to work in a supermarket; just so he can make a living.
Most Hollywood stories show the dishonor and almost vulgarity in being part of a working class lifestyle if you have talent, but Randy the Entertainer turns any day into a great day for his customers by tossing containers of potato salad toward them like footballs and offering a good story or two. When life gets him down, he, like most people reacts angrily and even violently, but does not take his anger out on people, which is quite remarkable. Darren Aronofsky is aware of these hopeful traits within Randy and does a fantastic job emphasizing them. When Randy is having a good day and a very good time, in the ring and outside of the ring, the lighting and warmth of the location gives a glow of optimism. When Randy is struggling, the lighting becomes a lot more stark and cold; becoming almost devoid of light at times. The simple, dirty reality of all of it is what makes it so believable and truthful. In spite of it being dirty, we still see the glimmer of hope. Up to the final moments of the film, we get a sense that Randy has really figured it all out in a way only a wise man can. He will live to the fullest no matter what.