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Rourke goes from mad dog to puppy dog

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Mickey Rourke arrives with his dog Loki for the awards where he scooped the top prize, the Golden Lion, for the film The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke arrives with his dog Loki for the awards where he scooped the top prize, the Golden Lion, for the film The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke arrives with his dog Loki for the awards where he scooped the top prize, the Golden Lion, for the film The Wrestler

After 11 days of red carpet galas, 21 films in competition and countless interviews, photo calls and parties, the Venice film festival boiled down to just one man in the end -- Mickey Rourke.

The festival, which unofficially kick-starts the awards season leading to the Oscars, will be remembered chiefly for Rourke's performance in Darren Aronofsky's 'The Wrestler', which the actor and critics agree is his best yet.

The movie, about a wrestler who despairs as his body gives up on him, won the coveted Golden Lion award for best movie.

The award seals his comeback from the Hollywood wilderness, and comments that Rourke is ready to ditch his bad-boy image and cooperate with directors suggest there is more to come.

"A guy like me changes hard, I didn't want to change, but I had to change," the star of 1980s hit 'Angel Heart' said.

"It's OK for me now at this point in my life to play ball, to be a team player," the 51-year-old actor added.

Rourke's triumph, and unanimous praise for Aronofsky's low-budget picture, meant the festival ended on a high.

There was further success for Hollywood, as US actress Jennifer Lawrence was named best emerging actress for her role in 'The Burning Plain'. But critics were underwhelmed by many of the films in the main competition, and debated whether the Hollywood writers' strike, selection mistakes or plain bad luck were to blame.

Italian newspapers said the choice of 'The Wrestler' for Golden Lion may help Venice lure US movies, and with them top stars, to the city as it strives to compete with rival festivals like Toronto.

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