I'm still not completely sure what I thought of The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. I know it was well done, Darren Aronofsky did a really great job getting what he did out of Rourke. The big debate is over who had the better performance, Rourke for The Wrestler or Sean Penn in Milk. My feelings are this.
Rourke tends to play this sort of part a lot. Not to mention that it directly relates to his life on many levels. Rourke quit acting to persue a career in boxing in the late eighties. He then lost his family and destroyed his face. Playing Randy "The Ram" Robinson must have been tough, sure, but he had personal experiences to draw from to help create this amazing character. The Ram wasn't a stranger to Rourke. He did a really phenomenal job in this movie, everyone involved did, and I am not disputing that on any level.
That said, when Penn signed on to play Harvey Milk, his performance was equally as good, if not a tiny bit better in my opinion, than Rourke. But here's the thing, Sean Penn had to do this role cold turkey. Harvey Milk was a much more unique character that The Ram. Sean Penn had to convince us all that he was an actually person who'd had a life. Harvey Milk wasn't just a character, he was a political beacon. Penn has a large challenge making us all believe he, who has played brooding characters for most of his career, could pull off the flambuoyant, carefree, humourous, loving character of Milk. And he did it! He did it perfectly.
In my humble opinion, it's a larger challenge to play the part of someone who has actually lived, who had friends and loves and hopes, and be able to portray that well than to play a character who was written for the screen. When acting as a real person, you have to capture all the subtle nuances of the person's personality, you have to really step into their skin and do the research to become them. Penn did that, and for that reason, I believe that he deserves to win the Oscar for Best Actor. Rourke is absolutly a close second in my book, though. The Wrestler was a powerful movie, and I really enjoyed taking that journey with Randy the Ram.