Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson“The world don’t give a shit about me.  You can lose everything that you love, and I’m not as pretty as I used to be, but I’m still standing and I’m the Ram. You people here are my family.” So says Mickey Rourke, roaring back to the big screen in Darren Aronofsky’s (“The Fountain”) low-budget film “The Wrestler” as Randy “the Ram” Robinson. The role was supposedly modeled on Randy “Macho Man” Savage, although Rourke gives credit elsewhere for his gritty portrait of a washed-up professional wrestler facing retirement due to a heart condition.

(www.chicagotribune.com). In an interview with Michael Phillips about this entry in the Chicago Film Festival which is receiving Oscar buzz for Rourke’s strong performance, Rourke said (October 12, p. 5):  “My younger brother, Joe, back in the day in Venice Beach, we used to go lift weights at Gold’s Gym, which was the mecca of bodybuilding back then.  And there was a guy named Magic.  He had long blonde hair. He had two hearing aids and couldn’t hear a (expletive deleted) thing.  He was a character, a biker dude who lived in a bus behind the gym.  He wrestled on the side, and I based my character on this guy Magic more than on anybody else.”

Wherever the inspiration for his wrestler character, the character’s words ring true in Rourke’s career and life when he speaks lines like, “I just want to tell you: I’m the one who was supposed to make everything okay for everybody, but things didn’t work out.  And I left. And now I’m an old broken-down piece of meat, and I’m alone, and I deserve to be alone.  I just don’t want you to hate me.” That bit of dialogue is uttered in a touching scene with Evan Rachel Wood, who plays his estranged daughter. Their trip to a deserted, run-down amusement park/arcade previously visited in her youth is symbolic of “The Ram’s” broken-down status in his career and in his life.

Randy is struggling to connect with someone…anyone. He tries to romance a local stripper (Marisa Tomei, showing a lot of skin in her role). He tries to win back his daughter, who shouts at him, “There is no more fixing this.  It is broke. Permanently.”  The Ram is even reduced to waiting on customers wearing a nametag that says “Robin” and a hair net at a deli (Abraham and Charlotte Aronofsky have bit parts here).

Most critics are predicting an Oscar nomination for Rourke, who, in the Phillips interview, said, “For a while there in the dark years before “The Wrestler” I needed to get away, to just…I had too much crap going on in my life.” He adds, “I didn’t know it was going to take me 13 years, but what are you going to do?  I was really bad for a long time, and it wasn’t anybody’s fault except mine. Change is hard, especially for a guy like me. And it’s not that I wanted to change.  I had to change.  And I’m very thankful now that I did.”

No young actors in this country in the early eighties were more promising than Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Acting class colleagues used to spread the word when either was going to do a scene, as all admired the duo’s intensity.  Rourke was in “Heaven’s Gate” in 1980 (cited as one of the biggest financial failures of all time) and in “Diner” in 1982. He had a real run of films in the mid-to-late eighties, with “9 and ½ Weeks,” “Angel Heart”(1986) and “Barfly” (1987). Then he made the controversial “Wild Orchid” in 1990, a critically panned film that paired him with Carre Otis, a former model whom he would marry and, later, divorce in 1998.

The number of roles that Rourke supposedly rejected, which turned out to be big box office and bad career decisions, is legion. Rourke actually retired from the ring to box professionally from 1991 to 1995, a move that left him with a battered face that is almost unrecognizable when compared to his early acting years. Born in 1956, he was told he was too old to really be good when he resumed boxing, so he took beating after beating. His love of boxing began at age 12, when he won a bantamweight fight at 118 pounds.

For this latest film, Rourke trained with professional wrestler “Afa, the Wild Samoan,” and many other pro wrestlers are given credit at the end of the film, such as Brutus Beefcake and The Flesh Eaters. With an 80s soundtrack (guitars by Slash on the original music composed by Clint Mansell) and the line extolling the eighties with the sentiment “That Cobain pussy hadn’t come around and ruined it (rock and roll)” the low-budget look into the life of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Ramzinsky), who lives in a trailer and is nearing the end of his career, is depressingly realistic. It gives both Rourke and co-stars Evan Rachel Wood (as his daughter) and Marisa Tomei (as his stripper friend) meaty roles. The fight against “The Ayatollah” that climaxes the film is supposedly based on the WWF wrestler “The Iron Sheikh.” (www.FilmSchoolRejects and www.NYA.com).