Filmed in a grainy looking format with what feels like a hand held digital camera, the cinematography brilliantly sets up an ambiance of decay, seediness, and failure.
Mickey Rourke enters into a semi-autobiographical role and does not pull a single punch in showing a life of one time success, but a complete failure of meeting responsibilities to those around them, and ultimately, to himself. Rourke could not possibly play this role better. The toughest part of his performance is knowing that he has lived this life already. You can hear in his breathing the respiratory degradation he currently suffers. In his face, not covered with a single bit of makeup, you can see the marks of a life poorly led.
Marisa Tomei plays her role beautifully. As an aging stripper, with a kid to raise, and Rourke's love interest, dealing with facing the facts that she is no longer capable of playing the role she must play as stripper, she takes her multilayer character and shows us all the layers with what seems perfect identification with each.
I do not know if Rourke can win over Penn and the other great roles nominated, but certainly, his role deserves the Academy Award nomination it has received.