THE WRESTLER: There was a time during the 1980s when Mickey Rourke was touted as the natural successor to Robert De Niro, as the greatest actor of his generation.

From his breakthrough in Diner through such acclaimed movies as Rumble Fish, Angel Heart (with De Niro), Year of the Dragon - even Nine and a Half Weeks - there was little he could do wrong even if his box office credentials were suspect.

During the 90s, his obsession with becoming a professional boxer came close to ruining his acting career when he required facial surgery to repair damage done in the ring.

More recently, however, his on-screen rehabilitation has been going well courtesy of the likes of Domino and Sin City.

Now it is complete with Rourke getting the kind of rave reviews he was receiving 20 years ago - and, ironically, it is for a film about wrestling!

He plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a veteran wrestler now saddled with eking out a living “fighting” in school gyms and community centres.

His life has not gone well but he is trying to improve his relationship with daughter Evan Rachel Wood and romance Marisa Tomei’s stripper.

Indie director Darren Aronofsky never loses sight of the fact this is an intense character study and Rourke rises to the challenge magnificently, giving arguably the best performance of his career.

He has already been rewarded with a Golden Globe - it is highly likely an Oscar will be added to that achievement in a few weeks’ time.