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The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke is awe-inspiring in Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece about the comeback of a down and out wrestler.

While Mickey Rourke has never quite disappeared completely into the wilderness, it's been many years since the reclusive actor has been given an opportunity to shine as he did in early films such as Rumblefish, Angel Heart and Diner. However, in The Wrestler, he's more than justified the faith of director Darren Aronofsky. Despite strong supporting roles from Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood, Rourke utterly owns the film.

The story is ostensibly quite a silly one. Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a professional wrestler who was packing out Madison Square Garden in the late 80s. When we join him 20 years on in New Jersey, he is sleeping in his van and scraping a living off the back of his glory days by wrestling in community centres. Cue much garish Spandex worn by men imbued with so many steroids that they make “The Rock” look like Alain de Botton.

Despite the unlikely premise, as we get to know Randy beyond his projected facade of happy-go-lucky good guy, who's loved by everyone from the trailer park kids to the local bouncers, it's clear that he's both deeply lonely and tormented by his estrangement from his daughter, as well as suffering from a weak heart due to years of steroid abuse. But, just as Randy seems to be doing the sensible thing and giving up wrestling, a promoter dangles the carrot of a 20th anniversary rematch with his old nemesis the Ayatollah, which sets up a devastating, heartbreaking climax.

Far from being, as some hacks have called it, the “wrestling Rocky”, Aronofsky's film is a thought-provoking rumination on identity, which asks this question – if the American dream wills us to define ourselves by success above all else, what is left when this ultimately fades? In Randy's case, nothing, If there is any comparison to be made with Stallone's enduring ridicu-fest and The Wrestler, then, it's that Randy is the anti-Rocky; an American reality to Balboa's Dream.

The Wrestler out on 16th Janury.