Narratively, ‘The Wrestler’ is solid, even unspectacular. It uses its central character – Mickey Rourke’s ex-WWF champ Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson – as a baseline from which to explore a familiar tale of loss and renewal. Writer Robert D Siegel takes the obvious option at most turns – throwing in an estranged kid here, a stripper girlfriend there.
It’s lucky, then, that ‘The Wrestler’ gets everything else right. Aronofsky directs with unfussy candour, alternating between the intensity of the wrestling and the drabness of Randy’s ‘real’ life. His biggest contribution is to stand aside and let Rourke go to work: the embodiment of the middle-aged comeback kid, it would have been easy for Rourke to play the Ram as a version of himself. But while the role is loaded, Rourke never coasts, delivering a committed, sympathetic portrait of a humble man cornered by bad decisions.
Perhaps because it’s his voice we hear over the closing credits, ‘The Wrestler’ has been likened to Springsteen: both employ familiar, even old- fashioned elements, but both manage to spin them into something meaningful through sheer quality of craftsmanship and emotional investment in the material. That this material is a little stale disappoints, but this is rendered irrelevant by Aronofsky’s direction and Rourke’s performance.