Mickey Rourke is getting some of the best reviews of his life for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, in which he stars as a WWE-type gladiator twenty years past his prime. Reviews arriving from the Toronto Film Festival praise the movie itself but can't stop talking about Rourke: The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber calls it "a career-best performance" and "a winning tour de force"; Variety's Todd McCarthy does him one better, gushing "Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances." Wow! The film — in which Rourke's character, Randy "the Ram" Robinson, sets out to connect with daughter Evan Rachel Wood and stripper friend Marisa Tomei while mounting a return to the ring — is sparking buzz of a possible Oscar.
It's all fairly ironic considering the trajectory of Rourke's career, from early promise to mid-nineties flameout. He may feel like the type of guy who's had a bunch of those media-assisted comeback moments, but a look back doesn't reveal too many plum roles between his eighties peak and 2005's Sin City. Those familiar with Rourke-career marginalia, however, know that Quentin Tarantino originally wanted Rourke to play Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction, but he turned it down and Bruce Willis eventually stepped in. Fittingly, Rourke's would-be validation role in The Wrestler only became available after Nicolas Cage — an actor who could really use some critical acclaim right about now — left the project. But hey, Nic, National Treasure 3! Nice!