The Wrestler is a dark little film about a broken-down professional wrestler whose glory days are far behind him.
Randy (The Ram) Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was once young, successful and wildly popular, but now he pursues the dregs of his profession, working the community centres in backwater New Jersey towns.
From his tan to his muscles, everything about The Ram is fake, and with the passage of time, it's all he can do to maintain the facade.
The Wrestler is a story that covers both the cult of celebrity and the transformative power of art, although it will no doubt be interpreted outside North America as a big, fat metaphor for the United States -- sic transit gloria mundi and all that.
Either way, the reason to see it is Mickey Rourke's performance.
The Wrestler opens with a sequence of old photos that show The Ram in the mid-'80s -- his heyday. Now it's 20 years later, and Randy the Ram lives in a trailer park and works at a grocery store.
His workout involves the taping of aching body parts and the ingestion of painkillers and steroids.
Randy has gone from working-class hero to a guy who has to scrabble for rent money, but he still enjoys the thrill of wrestling, even if he's working the D-circuit.
After a particularly gruelling match involving staples and broken glass, Randy winds up in hospital in need of surgery.
Too bad, because he'd been looking forward to a big rematch event with his old nemesis from the '80s, The Ayatollah.
His brush with his own mortality puts him on the retirement trail, and he attempts to revive his relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood). He also attempts to get closer to a stripper he likes (Marissa Tomei), but The Ram isn't too good at relationships.
After a particularly bad day working at the grocery store, Randy chucks the straight life and puts his name back in for the Ayatollah event. He can't resist the pull of the ring, and a shot at recapturing some of the old glory.
The Wrestler is shot in a spare, documentary-type fashion, the better to underline the intensity of Rourke's performance.
The story is raw and often tough to watch, but Rourke is so good that you can't look away.
WHAT YOU THINK
Will you go see The Wrestler in theatres?
Absolutely - 40%
Maybe - 13%
No - 13%
It's not playing near me, but I'd like to - 14%
I'll wait for the DVD - 20%
The actor helped write some of his own dialogue, and that -- along with the obvious art-imitates-life relationship between actor and character -- may explain why the role fits Rourke like a glove.
It has already won him a best actor Golden Globe nomination, along with plenty of notice from film critics' groups all over North America. It will probably earn him an Oscar nomination.
The Wrestler, meanwhile, won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival.
September 17, 2008: Aronofsky and Rourke passionate about The Wrestler -- and wrestling
Review: Aronofsky's The Wrestler an instant classic
The Wrestler in our SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database
Photo gallery from The Wrestler screening at Toronto International Film Festival
The SLAM! Wrestling Movie Database
Liz Braun is a movie writer at the Toronto Sun.