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‘Wrestler’ a tale of heartfelt honesty

Mickey Rourke portrays a has-been pro wrestler in a comeback performance in ‘The Wrester.’

“The Wrestler” is “Rocky” for an age of diminished expectations, a heartfelt underdog story that hits you like an elbow smash in the ribs.

Mickey Rourke finds his career-defining role as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a has-been pro wrestler pushing his battered carcass through a few more bouts. Rourke, 56, abandoned acting in the early ’90s to take up boxing, and now owns a face that looks like it kissed more than a few turnbuckles. Rourke has the physique and the soul to play the Ram.

His performance reminds you why he once was mentioned in the same breath with Brando. Here he is after 15 years in the wilderness, aiming to turn his career around with a display of real showmanship.

Everything about Randy the Ram is crowd-pleasing make-believe, including his name: His birth certificate reads Robin Ramzinsky. Yet he’s genuine where it counts. With bleached hair past his shoulder blades and an artificial tan that makes him look like a roast turkey, he’s a cartoon image of virtue for the dwindling crowds at his matches.

Randy flopped as a professional entertainer and as a family man (he hasn’t seen his grown daughter in years). Still, he is an innocent. When the little boys in his trailer park coax him to come out and play, he roughhouses with them like a 9-year-old. In the ring he delivers his all, a sincere practitioner of a cheeseball art form. He’s a steroid-bloated failure, but his heart is true.

His story is agreeably modest. The Ram wants to perform in a reunion match with his old nemesis The Ayatollah, a pleasant Californian who owns used-car dealerships. He wants to go on a date with Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), a stripper whose professional smile he mistakes for friendliness. And he wants to make amends with his grown-up little girl Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). On this simple scaffolding director Darren Aronofsky builds a remarkably touching and universal story. Almost every character gets a full measure of empathy.

“The Wrestler” is strong, confident filmmaking. It shows you everything you need to know and never whispers in your ear what you’re supposed to feel.

You can almost smell the stale sweat in the locker rooms, the flat beer in the strip joint, the salt spray at the shore where Randy and his daughter have their moment of forgiveness and love.

The script slices the ham thick, but there’s an aura of sincerity about the story that redeems it. The final image ends the film on a note of sublime balance. Simply put, it’s a knockout.

If you go

What: “The Wrestler”

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Rated: R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use

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