Most people who watched Mickey Rourke literally stumble onto the stage last night to accept a Golden Globe for his acting turn in The Wrestler were genuinely inspired by the once down-and-out actor's amazing comeback. How could anyone not get a bit misty-eyed when Rourke talked about his dogs, and how they were pretty much his only friends when everyone else in Hollywood abandoned him? (His second favorite film of the year must have been Wendy and Lucy.)
Hey, I get it. I thought Mickey Rourke was great in Diner and Barfly, but what about The Wrestler? What's gotten lost in the media hype surrounding Rourke's "comeback" is the actual film and the performance itself.
The film tells the story of has-been wrestler Randy "the Ram" Robinson, and it is, by all means, a good film. A good film. The director, Darren Aronofsky, is Ivy League educated and has clawed his way up to almost-Hollywood-elite status by helming such films as Pi (dreadful), Requiem for a Dream (overreaching, lugubrious, and ultimately flaccid). Clearly Aronofsky's zenith is The Wrestler, and without a doubt it's his best film yet.
But after watching The Wrestler, I kept asking myself: What kind of performance would Mickey Rourke have turned in had the film been directed by someone else, say, Martin Scorsese or Mike Leigh? True, asking such a question is a mug's game, but nonetheless I have an answer: Rourke's performance quite possibly would have been truly great, masterful. Instead, Rourke gives a pretty good performance.
Scene after scene it's glaringly obvious that Aronofsky's directing style seems incredibly passive. Sure, I wasn't on the set, and yes, I have no idea how he works day to day. But I can just imagine Aronofsky never really pushed Rourke, something all great directors do. Remember Sharon Stone in Casinobad actress, excellent performance; same can be said about Shelley Duval in The Shining, two examples of great directors, Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick, pushing their actors to deliver great performances.
Several scenes in The Wrestler look as if Aronofsky just needed Emotion X and Rourke was instructed to deliver. Cut. Print. Let's wrap for the day.
Sure, it's not fair to compare Aronofsky to legendary directors, but great screen performances don't just happen; they aren't preordained or predetermined. They're nursed, coddled, and hatched with the help of the director who should demand more than just simple emotion. In the case of Aronofsky's latest, a pretty adequate director got a pretty good performance from an actor who has proved he's capable of doing better.
But I can't stop thinking about the dogs...that is pretty touching.