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Heroes of the Zeroes: The Wrestler

by on December 8, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“The Wrestler”
Rated R

Once a pro-wrestling god, Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) now grapples in school gyms, minimizing pain while bleeding for audiences numb to vintage spandex-and-oil simplicity.

The obligation of a good show is the least Randy can shoulder for fans following him past his prime. But Randy’s physique has calcified into a repository for steroids, UV rays and hair dye, and crossed-out phone numbers on his estranged daughter’s (Evan Rachel Wood) photo remind him of so many wasted chances.

There’s little glamorous in repetitively tilting at windmills — Darren Aronofsky’s tragic motif. After tracking insurmountable monoliths of science, addiction and artistic creativity, Aronofsky turned to universal inevitabilities like advancing age and brutal pain in “The Wrestler.” (To “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler’s” feminine counterpart, Aronofsky added madness.)

It’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight’s” athletic twilight cross-trained with Willy Loman’s quest for greatness. Appropriately, Aronofsky trimmed stylistic flourishes to brilliantly focus on smaller stories of those on society’s periphery, in finite occupations.

Low-hanging ceiling tiles in a cramped venue absorb sound and Randy’s majesty, and Marisa Tomei shines as a stripper approaching a sell-by date for base pleasures. Screenwriter (and Onion maven) Robert Siegel also turned his observant eye on hardship, not hilarity.

No stranger to limited-term resurrections himself, Rourke delivered relentless, fruitless, optimism. There was no character to root for more strongly in spite of himself in 2008, and “The Wrestler” spat and bled Randy’s physical poetry — an elegy of emasculation and exhaustion building, in its final shot, to all the exhilaration he needed.