"The Wrestler" Director Takes Risks

Director Darren Aronofsky holds aloft the Golden Lion award for his film 'The Wrestler' during the awards presentation at the 65th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Joel Ryan) AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Oscar enthusiasts are buzzing over Mickey Rourke's full throttle performance in Darren Aronofsky's latest movie, "The Wrestler." It's a potentially-career defining role for Rourke, who has a somewhat troubled past.

Winner of this year's Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, Aronofsky's first foray into the sports film genre has garnered a great deal of praise from critics, with many comparisons to classic underdog tales such as "Rudy" and "Rocky."

Although primarily known for confronting rather dark subject matter in his works, such as in "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream," it might seem surprising for moviegoers to see Aronofsky now turn his attention towards the arena of pro wrestling. But, whether a fan or not of this contemporary director, one cannot deny that he certainly loves a challenge.

"No one has ever really made a serious film about professional wrestling before…it's always dismissed as being fake," Aronofsky told CBS News.com, "My first three films were very formal, I wanted to try something different."

With the casting of Rourke as the central character, Aronofsky was in fact intending to portray a whole other side to this sport. In a knock out performance, Rourke stands as a force to be reckoned with in the ring.

In what is perhaps a classic example of art imitating life, the onetime 80's heartthrob now graces the screen as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a middle-aged professional wrestler whose fame and reputation has waned over the last 20 years. But, after a heart attack and subsequent surgery, Rourke's character is told that he must never wrestle again out of concerns that he may not survive even one more match. Nevertheless, this "Ram" remains determined.

Aronofsky had nothing but praise for the resilience of Rourke and his performance in this film.

"He's completely authentic and honest. He's a live, open wound. He comes from tough times, but he's got it under control now," the director said.

His previous film, "The Fountain," failed to match the success of his other works, so Aronofsky has put his professional reputation on the line in this project. And while he willingly admits to not being a huge fan of the world of pro wrestling, Aronofsky tackles his source material just as Rourke's character faces off with his opponents.

"No matter how crazy something might seem, you gotta go with your gut feeling and stick with it," Aronofsky said of his motivation to undertake unfamiliar subject matter. For both star and director, their efforts mark the return of two talents who each can certainly throw a punch.

"The Wrestler," costarring Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei, is now playing in limited release.


By KEN LOMBARDI
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