As people who've been involved - albeit on the periphery - of indie wrestling for almost a decade now, we can attest how almost painfully accurate this is. We've met former superstars like Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka, no longer playing Madison Square Gardens, but instead appearing in a ring set up on an off-night in an urban nightclubs. We've seen from, both sides of the curtain, the tortuous hell they put themselves through for our entertainment, both in the ring and in their relationships, thanks to the toll taken by the dedication reqired to their art/sport. We know the curious attraction that unites strippers with wrestlers: both performers, and masters at creating an illusion designed to appeal to the baser instincts of the viewer. There is resonance on a whole number of levels, most obviously Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Rourke): like the actor, a former star, now consigned, in ways both fateful and his own responsibility, to the bottom tier of his profession, but getting an unexpected life-line. In the film, it's the chance to escape his day-job in a supermarket, for a rematch of his most famous battle from twenty years ago; however, the role has resurrected Rourke's career in much the same way. And then there's the parallels between him and Cassidy/Pam (Tomei), a dancer who is similarly past her prime, but like Randy, keeps grinding it out, night after night.
The insights the film offers into wrestling are probably less shocking or revealing to us, but as a character study, it's still endlessly fascinating, for the moments when Randy achieves momentary happiness. Not necessarily in the ring, either. Rough-housing with neighbours' kids near his trailer and goofing off with bemused customers when he gets a shot behind the deli counter, prove Randy's 'normality,' despite a willingness to allow his opponents to use a staple-gun, repeatedly, on his tired body. However, it's mostly as downbeat as you'd expect from the director. The film's major flaw, while fitting in with this pessimism, is a clichéd central element, that appears to have strayed in from a Hallmark movie: as soon as it's introduced, you know exactly where the story is going, and the movie doesn't even have the decency to provide acceptable closure there. It's a shame, since Rourke's amazing performance - in and out of the ring - deserves better.