Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Wrestler

Gandhi reading.









Last weekend, I watched Gran Torino with my ears covered. This weekend I watched The Wrestler with my eyes shut. (I won't even mention the other movie I watched holding my nose).

I can't remember a more upsetting or riveting (and I mean that in a specific way) time at the movies. And the reason is that Mickey Rourke captures our sympathy more successfully than Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino. More than Frank Langella in FROST/NIXON. And certainly more than Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button or even Sean Penn in MILK. (It was certainly a year for movies with men at risk).

There are few performances so imbued with the blood and guts of the actor who plays the part.

Rourke is lovable, compelling, scary, sad, and he and Marisa Tomei make quite a believable duo. Randy's a screwup from the start. Bad father, bad husband, poor earner, but there is something so likable about him that we root for him to succeed. To find whatever it is he needs to locate within himself to survive. The scenes with Randy and his wrestling buddies just shine with veracity.

This is a performance of a lifetime. I saw all five Oscar noms but this was the masterwork for me. Mickey was Randy the Ram. See it. (And incidentally beside his facial changes from boxing and steroids, what happened to that delicate voice).

What are some other performances where the actor inhabited the character he played this successfully? Coming close for me was Melissa Leo in Frozen River this year too.

17 comments:

Lisa said...

I saw Mickey Rourke on Larry King last week and I couldn't get over his physical appearance...his face. What happened to his face? I must confess, I've never gotten over Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks -- which probably doesn't say much good about where my head was at when I was 25! I always thought that whatever self-destructive streak the actor has that led him into his career and personal downward spiral was tragic. Such potential. I want to see this movie and I'm almost afraid to.

Other performances that really scared me (in a good way because I think the actor was inhabiting the character) were Edward Norton in American History X, as corny as it sounds, Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and Kevin Kline in Sophie's Choice. If I think of more, I'll come back -- good question.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood & Gangs of New York. Nobody inhabits a character as he does.

Lisa said...

Joseph Fiennes as Neil Bookman in Running With Scissors.

Lisa said...

Ooh, and Ed Harris in Pollock. OK, I'll stop now :)

David Cranmer said...

I'm glad you liked this. I may have to break down and see this on the big screen.

George said...

What happened to Mickey Rourke's face? Lots of drugs and ten years fighting in the boxing ring. Then plenty of "cosmetic" surgery.

Dana King said...

It's a shame about Mickey Rourke, a great talent pretty much pissed away. Having seen him in DINER and ANGEL HEART, I assumed he'd be making a big movie a year for a long time. Let's hope he and Robert Downey, Jr. finally have their acts together.

As for actors inhabiting roles, Edward Norton in PRIMAL FEAR comes to mind. His range is more limited, but when Joe Pesci plays a psycho gangster (GOODFELLAS, CASINO), he IS a psycho gangster.

Kieran said...

Mickey Rourke's triumph. No doubt. But still my favorite of Rourke's will always be the small crime drama THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE with Eric Roberts...another amazing actor who, when you take a look at the before and after photos you end up saying W.T.F.?

Joe Boland said...

Mickey Rourke was great in DINER, and he makes everybody else in BODY HEAT look kinda silly. Well, except for Kathleen Turner.

Joe Boland said...

Sorry, I missed the question!

Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin, Frances McDormand in Fargo. I guess there are a lot of them. How about Edward Horton in Primal Fear, too, And he and Naomi Watts in--oh, what was it?
DINER is one of my favorite movies and Mickey was the main draw. Forest Whittaker was amazing in that movie. He was fearless.
Haven't seen the Pope for years. Good rental idea.

Todd Mason said...

What's really tough is bringing nuance to a big clunking machine, such as Angelina Jolie in MR. AND MRS. SMITH (and I'm no Jolie idolator). Or playing against it, but not so far against it that it becomes clear you're mocking your circumstances, such as Samuel L. Jackson in THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT. (Well-deserved mockery of circumstance would include Gina Gershon in SHOWGIRLS.) And then there's those who just decide to have as much fun with the role in an intentionally unambitious film as possible, such as Gershon's costar Kyle Mc. in THE HIDDEN.

And excellent performances in flawed ambitious films...Laura Dern in the likes of SMOOTH TALK and CITIZEN JANE...

And Tim Robbins, with the only actually good, if not his best, performance in MYSTIC RIVER...

Todd Mason said...

Arguable Spoiler for the wary:

The thing about pro wrasslin' is that it's the only sport-like martial art where you're basically more intent on hurting yourself than you are the opponent...even when getting stapled. With one's own agreement.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You nailed it exactly, Todd.
SMOOTH TALK-what a great little movie. JCO greatest filmed work.

Todd Mason said...

And yet it completely screws up the story it tries to tell. Oates original is much more powerful/frightening. She's used the template or elements multiple times since, and who can blame her.

("Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?")

Perhaps AMERICAN PLAYHOUSE, the PBS series which partially bankrolled SMOOTH TALK, couldn't handle the bleakness.

pattinase (abbott) said...

True-in the original story you knew she was going to her death. in the tv version, it seemed like she might be in for some fun. But Treat managed to scare me pretty good.

Charles Gramlich said...

I really want to see this movie. I've heard nothing but good about Rourke's performance.