Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

A few days ago, the only thing I really knew about Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was that Mickey Rourke was in it and looked like Dog The Bounty Hunter had lit his hair on fire, put it out with baby oil and then shaved his beard off (see above). Today is very, very different.

Because today I know better. I’ll admit to not following the film very closely because – gasp – I’m not a huge Aronofsky fan. I can defend myself later, but for now, I’m still recovering from the barrage of praise for his new film.

If I didn’t get the picture when it won the Golden Lion at Venice, I definitely should have gotten it when Anne Thompson mentioned that the option fight – that Fox Seachlight eventually won for a cool $4 million – involved an Oscar-qualifying late-year release to ensure Mickey Rourke would get a chance at a nomination.

I also could have gotten the picture after reading the reviews. Bear with me, and you’ll see how overwhelmed I felt.

Peter Sciretta from /Film:

The Wrestler is a heartbreaking, beautiful film. . . Mickey’s performance is worthy of all the Oscar buzz that has been floating around since the Venice premiere.

Mr. Beaks from Aint It Cool:

…Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is less reinvention than refinement: the relentless self-destruction of mind and body depicted in Pi and Requiem For a Dream has merged with The Fountain‘s search for spiritual grace, while his audacious technique has been abandoned for a naturalistic approach that recalls the independent American cinema of the 1970s and 80s…

Stephen Farber from The Hollywood Reporter:

Rourke dispenses with all vanity to plumb the depths of this well-meaning but severely damaged man. Tomei delivers one of her most arresting performances, again without any trace of vanity. Wood’s part is smaller, but she captures the scalding anger of a woman neglected for most of her life.

Todd McCarthy from Variety:

An elemental story simple and brilliantly told, Darren Aronofsky’s fourth feature is a winner from every possible angle…

James Rocchi from Cinematical:

The Wrestler is one of the most grimly exciting, magnetically repellent movies we’ve had in a long time; it’s flat-out one of the best American movies of 2008.

See what I mean? It’s not often that I see that sort of across-the-board agreement on the sites I casually peruse unless a guy with a hat and whip or Jedi Masters are involved. And it’s not just agreement. It’s outright, to-the-rooftop praise.

Clearly, there’s something resonating strongly with this film. Whether it was launched purely because of Aronofsky’s pedigree or not, it has only gained in popularity. After winning the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, it was straight on to a packed house in Toronto. After that, it was an early morning bidding frenzy to buy distribution rights – making this movie look more and more like the last eight-ball in a room full of junkies.

It’s also making me ruefully wish that Panphobia-Sufferer-in-Chief Neil Miller’s latent fear of Canada hadn’t kept us from going to Toronto to fight over tickets. It’s making me wish that I had been there for the initial excitement. It’s making me wish that the buzz for Rourke is serious enough to see an actor who’s been in the business for a long time through thick and thin gets something as serious as an Oscar nomination.

And since it’s an indie, I’m looking forward to critics and journalists calling it “the little movie that could” and comparing Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson to Juno. Even more so than that, I’m looking forward to seeing a movie that has the kind of beauty and depth that critics are claiming The Wrestler brings forth and to have my mind turned around about Aronofsky.


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