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.