14/2/09. Watched at A's on a Bafta judge's DVD with "Property of Optimum Releasing" permanently burnt into the top of the screen, which made it a tougher watch than it might otherwise have been.
Mickey Rourke's comeback movie, for which he is Oscar-nominated, directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Robert D Siegel (former editor-in-chief of The Onion, who is wasted on journalism). Unquestionably a fine performance by Rourke, perfectly convincing as the over-the-hill wrestler Randy "the Ram" Robinson, whose life is a mess and becomes messier still when he has a heart attack after an especially bloody bout with an opponent whose gimmicks include barbed wire and a staple gun.
The suspicion must be that our Mickey wasn't really acting. He IS the Ram. On the other hand he must have had to work jolly hard to acquire the physique.
Good on the cameraderie of the westler's locker room, the way bouts are choreographed in advance, the soul-destroying business of being a minor star in a marginal but physically demanding branch of showbiz.
There's an especially depressing scene at a "fan night" when a bunch of the guys sit around autographing videos for a handful of fans in some ghastly community centre. When there are no more fans they sit in uncomfortable silence staring at the walls. One of them you see at the start (but only in wideshot) is in a wheelchair: it isn't milked, but it's a good touch, typical of this film's generally understated approach to a seriously over-the-top profession.
The Ram lives in a trailer: at the start he comes back from a bout to find he's been locked out by the manager for non-payment. He has to sleep in his van (a Dodge Ram, A said authoritatively). He gets part-time work in a supermarket humping boxes and then, after the heart attack, working on the deli counter in a ridiculous hairnet which completely covers his long dyed blond heavy metaller's hair. He has to be nice to difficult customers and eventually can't stand it and storms out in a destructive (and of course self-destructive) rage.
He has two relationships with women in the course of the film, both of which look as if they're going to be stereotypically sentimental Hollwyood hook-ups, both of which collapse in a commendably realistic and honest (if bleak) fashion.
The first is with a lap-dancer (Marisa Tomei) who breaks her own rule and agrees to meet a client outside the club. She's a single mother with a nine-year old son. Her position as an ageing performer in a particularly tawdry branch of showbiz mirrors his: at one stage towards the end there's a direct visual parallel. We see her in wideshot, centre of the frame, spotlit and dancing on stage in front of a curtain and then (in close-up) faking alluring looks and sensuous abandon. Then she remembers Randy, exits stage and spotlight through the curtains behind her and rushes off to the venue where he has decided to make an ill-advised comeback.
She tries and fails to dissuade him from going on. He turns and emerges, spotlit, from another set of curtains and marches down a ramp to the ring. A little later in the bout we see him in close-up, clearly struggling, and he looks up to where she was watching him from the ramp: wide shot, central curtains. She's gone. It's almost the last shot in the film.
The other relationship is with his daughter. He hasn't seen her for years; he clearly walked out on her mother. When he tells the dancer of his heart attack she urges him to get in touch with his daughter and they meet up at a clothing store so she can advise him on a present to buy.
Initially suspicious, the daughter agrees to an afternoon together. They travel down memory lane (or at any rate, the Atlantic City boardwalk) though they're his memories: she doesn't recall the things he remembers. They dance in an abandoned ballroom. Cue lump in the throat and tears in the eye. They agree to meet the following Saturday. Then he fails to show, having got drunk and stoned and laid and when he does arrive, hours late, the daughter says (correctly) that he's always been a fuck-up and always will be and she wants nothing more to do with him and she throws him out.
Admirably unsentimental stuff. Immediately after watching it I thought it a rather mediocre film. Writing this, I've come to appreciate it rather more for its distinctly un-Hollywood avoidance of easy endings.