The Wrestler


April 21, 2009|By CHRIS KALTENBACH

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Released by Fox Searchlight; $29.95, Blu-ray, $39.95. **** (4 STARS)

Getting a broken-down actor, savaged by time and broken almost beyond repair by his own miscalculations, to play a broken-down wrestler, savaged by time and broken almost beyond repair by his own miscalculations, was only part of the genius behind The Wrestler. The rest was not letting that be the only reason to recommend the movie.

Make no mistake: Getting Mickey Rourke, his body and reputation ravaged by years of physical and emotional self-abuse, to play Randy "The Ram" Robinson, was an incredible gamble (financing was tough to come by, given Rourke's track record) that paid off. Rourke's Ram, a wrestler on the downside of his career, is maddening and endearing, pitiable and noble, remarkably clear-eyed about himself, struggling not for glory, but simply to cope. It's a magnificent performance.

But The Wrestler is about more than that. It's about Marisa Tomei's single-mom stripper, struggling to live her life by rules that are supposed to protect, but smother her instead. It's about Evan Rachel Wood's emotionally constricted daughter, who has convinced herself that hope is something she can't afford. It's about the difficulty of redemption, and the pain that makes it essential.

Director Darren Aronofsky specializes in stories where dreams are more a crutch than an escape; with The Wrestler, he manages to find nobility even in that.

Also in stores today: Frost/Nixon (Universal; $29.95, Blu-ray, $39.95): Oscar nominee Frank Langella portrays our 37th president as a mix of bluster and befuddlement, a guy you feel sorry for, even if you suspect you shouldn't. Ron Howard's film of the successful stage play turns Nixon's post-Watergate acknowledgment of (some) responsibility into a failed game of chess, where the disgraced ex-president finds himself checkmated by an opponent he didn't even realize knew how to play the game. Fascinating stuff.

Other releases: Valerie Harper flies solo in Rhoda - Season One (Shout Factory, $39.95); Jamal Woodard is hip-hop superstar Notorious B.I.G. in Notorious (20th Century Fox; $34.95, Blu-ray, $39.95); the title says it all in 1974's I Dismember Mama (Televista, $24.95).

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