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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Change of subject now. Talk of an Oscar nomination is getting loud to the point of deafening for Mickey Rourke's performance in "The Wrestler." Los Angeles Times and Morning Edition film critic Kenneth Turan says the excitement is worth it for the actor, though not the movie.

KENNETH TURAN: Mickey Rourke is the heart of "The Wrestler." He's Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a once-great name in professional wrestling who's fallen on hard times. As the blues lyric says, if Robinson didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any kind of luck at all. You can hear the pain as the man tries to explain himself to his estranged daughter.

(Soundbite of movie "The Wrestler")

Mr. MICKEY ROURKE: (As Randy "The Ram" Robinson) I used to try to forget about you. I used to try to pretend that you didn't exist. But I can't. You're my little girl. And now I'm an old, broken-down piece of meat. And I'm alone. And I deserve to be all alone. I just don't want you to hate me.

TURAN: Rourke himself has had very public bouts with career disintegration, and he falls naturally into this character. He brings just the right amount of faded charisma to a role he hesitated to take on because it was a little too close to his life. "The Wrestler" also does a good job recreating the down-at-the-heels ambiance of the lower rungs of professional wrestling. It's a subculture that was into performance art well before the high-culture world heard about it.

"The Wrestler" does have its problems, however, and they begin with Robinson's bouts which are depicted so graphically they make a fetish out of audience discomfort. When you include a wrestler who uses a staple gun on his opponents, this is not realism - this is making us squirm for squirming's sake. That weakness for bludgeoning the audience into correct emotional thinking is a flaw that plays out throughout the film. When, for instance, Robinson gets a job behind a deli counter, he responds to an irritating customer in the bloodiest, most excessive way imaginable. Rourke has turned in a memorable performance, but it is real work in an essentially fake film.

MONTAGNE: The movie is "The Wrestler." Kenneth Turan reviews movies for Morning Edition and the Los Angeles Times.

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