The burning need for public adulation has forced many careers to linger on stages, screens or legislatures far beyond their “best before” date. The unholy equation works equally: the celebrity craves the applause and recognition while the fan savours the nostalgia of a long-ago, happier (or so their selective memories confirm) time.
The best thing about director Darren Aronofsky’s realization of Robert Siegel’s original screenplay is Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Randy “the Ram” Robinson. The prolific actor turns in an astonishing performance even as the excesses of violence (making the blatant links to The Passion of the Christ entirely plausible—cross-reference below) and poorly developed characterization drag the movie into the realm of merely OK. In the ring his “bring it on” request to fellow aging athletes is granted with guts and gusto. Yet the staple gun salvo sullied the planned brutality by over indulgence. Back in the Ram’s real world of trailer-camp living, strip-club recreation and perpetual search for a one-on-one human relationship, the warm side of the past-it puncher lacks the underlying steel to make his failures seem plausible.
Metaphorically, there are many invitations to the dance that try to provide some overarching cohesion. Beyond the siren call of the carefully choreographed “steps” the fighters map out prior to going under or over the ropes and battling to a three-count pin for their happy-to-look-the-other-way blood-loving admirers, there are a few moving moments of the more up-close-and-personal variety.
Trying to get beyond customer/client, table-dance-for-cash contact is stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei gets down and dirty like a seasoned pro but can’t find the true tone of vulnerability when she leaves her den of iniquity and morphs back to single mom who must be groped and leered at to keep food on the table) who finally admits Randy into her private life following a near-death experience. His spontaneous dance for her as they sip “just one beer” ignites understanding and hope for their budding romance.
The other turn around the floor takes place in an abandoned ball room (a metaphor in itself: Where have the crowds of the glory days gone?). This time Robinson’s partner is his estranged grown-up daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachael Wood fires on all cylinders during her frequent outbursts of pent-up rage). Having abandoned his only child when she was in grade school, it takes a considerable amount of persuasion to be allowed to apologize for past transgressions, much less try to rekindle the familial bond. Finally afraid of dying alone, his forgotten girl is all that remains.
Sadly, Siegel’s script hasn’t prepared the emotional and inner-struggle background with enough depth to let anyone care about the dead-beat dad after the reconciliation crashes and burns. Like his hero, the writer desperately wants to return to the ring for one more “Ram 1, 2, 3!”
Once again savouring the roar of the throng, Siegel takes away any possibility of leaving the film’s audience with even a morsel of food for thought by giving his solitary hero a microphone to tell all of the feelings that should have already been known, felt or imagined. Finally, the camera (Maryse Alberti’s cinematography and Andrew Weisblum’s deft editing serve up an abundance of visual knockouts that are at one with the action) has the last word; if only Aronofsky had had the courage to let more images speak for themselves. JWR