SLIPPING THEM A MICKEY
The Return Of Mickey Rourke (Again)
Weather-beaten, haggard, used... these are cruel words tossed about by those who should know better, a nasty way of saying that someone has worn a bit of tread off their tires. Of course, these insults are only directed at the ones Hollywood thinks are no longer important... like Nick Nolte, Jon Voight, Mickey Rourke. Those in favor are supposedly "aging gracefully" or "show character" - Robert Redford comes to mind - or perhaps the person in question has had their tires "recapped" to prolong the illusion. Deception plays so much better on the screen, I think, but in "the biz" it's more about perception than about art.
Mickey Rourke came out of the chute all about the art. Body Heat wasn't Rourke's first movie role, but his career started to take off after a small but brilliant turn as an arsonist client of lawyer William Hurt. "Teddy" had but a few minutes of screen time, but even among a stellar cast of actors, Rourke's intensity and charisma jumped right off the screen. Critics anxiously scribbled notes about this new presence, this "next James Dean". When he followed it up with strong performances in Diner and The Pope Of Greenwich Village, it was clear that Mickey Rourke was a star.
Some good movies followed. Then some bad choices. Then...a fall from grace for the ages.
Let's be honest - Mickey Rourke's resume has some potholes. Admittedly, he took a few pictures solely for the money, and unfortunately, it shows. Frustrated with the bullshit and politics of Hollywood and the lack of respect for the craft of the profession, the grind wore on him until one day he just stopped caring (ask him, and he'll admit that's true). He tried his hand at boxing with respectable but unspectacular results. He also made some bad choices, personally and professionally...passing on plum roles that would have made him a movie star (Rain Man, for one) and flaunting his association with some rough and scary people. You can be the biggest pain in the ass if you want to when you're lining other peoples' pockets with money. Then you're called eccentric. But when your marriage falls apart, your passions die, your money stops flowing in and you start to fall, strange things happen. All of those "friends" disappear like cockroaches in a floodlight. The calls, the offers, even the second chances stop coming. The phone is quiet. You're toast.
You can't throw a rock without hitting a story about how Mickey Rourke hit bottom and hit hard, so I won't waste your time rehashing the details; suffice it to say that the man lost everything that was important to him in his life. A lesser man would have stayed down on the mat, took the count and ended the misery. But when everything had been stripped away - the entourage, the attitude, the politics - what remained was the passion in his heart. So he reached down deep, and using that inner strength, he refocused his life on what had been so important once before, a long time ago. But even that wasn't enough. Hollywood didn't want to let him back in the game. Stories surfaced, not about his attempt to rebuild his career, but about supposed on-set tantrums, his collection of small dogs, and his plastic surgery. More rejection. More depression. More therapy. More "almost" projects that never happened. More personal tragedy. And then, finally, an invitation to grab the brass ring from a young director who judged the man by his talent and not by the reputation. And faced with perhaps the last opportunity to play a role that could revive his career, Rourke stepped up and knocked the cover off the ball.
Now - finally - years after the return started, twenty-five years after the first beginning, the rumbling has started again. You can't read a review of Sin City without encountering a Rourke accolade. Despite a Who's Who of acting talent he is consistently singled out as the highlight of the film. As Marv, Rourke brings a tortured intensity to the role that makes Miller's character jump off the page, literally as well as figuratively. It's the whole package - bravado, humor, anger, doubt, guilt and vindication. Even under layers of prosthetics, the heart of Marv bleeds through. Most actors would have lumbered through, focusing on the physical force of the part rather than the motivation behind it. Just watch Rourke's eyes - the window to the soul - and you're reminded that acting is a skill. His gravely voice-over is yet more icing on the cake in this comic book noir. It's a tour-de-force performance, a comeback that doesn't tap on the door but rather kicks it in.
Now the same magazines that were printing horrible oddball tidbits about him - or worse, printing nothing at all - are lining up to welcome him back into the fold. An older, wiser Rourke gingerly accepts the attention this time around, but the boxer's instincts remain. Play the game, but don't get played. Deep inside, you know it stings...why can't it just be about the acting? Ask the really intriguing actors about Mickey - the Penns, Walkens, Depps - and to a person they'll tell you how Rourke remains an untapped well of talent. How his swaggering but vulnerable machismo was an inspiration to them. How he could stand toe-to-toe with the best and still can. How he will generously share a small scene instead of trying to steal it, yet still make his turn one of the film's pivotal moments. That he's an actor's actor despite everything else, and that life's hard knocks have given him even greater resonance and depth.
There's a great line in My Favorite Year when Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole) is panicking about doing live television. Cornered in a hallway, he pleads with the young TV writer that he's not the iconic star everyone thinks he is, but just a man of flesh and blood, mortal and "life size". Benjy (Mark Linn-Baker) retorts "I don't need you life size. I need Alan Swanns as big as I can get them!"
Well, we need Mickey Rourke now - both life size and as big as we can get him. Open those doors, Hollywood, and let the man in. Then get the hell out of his way and let him act.
Fifteen Mickey Rourke Movies You Shouldn't Miss
Sure, 9 ½ Weeks was popular, but after Brando's soliloquy in Last Tango In Paris, this is ground that didn't need revisiting. Made him popular and maybe ruined his career. Hey, if you want to, enjoy the (cough) titillation. But try these instead:
Sin City (2005) .... Marv
Maybe the best comic book adaptation ever, in that it looks like a comic book and not a dramatization of a comic hero. An amazing cast and a brilliant director bring Frank Miller's work to life, but Mickey's tortured Marv is a revelation.
Spun (2002) .... The Cook
Another ensemble featuring some of Hollywood's pretty young things dirtied up, but Rourke is on another level. Lots of humor, especially the "Cooking Show" promo reel for the movie, but there's a scene in the car where his character talks about his mother that has more weight than the rest of the film combined.
Shades (1999) .... Paul Sullivan
Playing an exiled director trying to harness a bad-boy actor must have been an ironic role for Rourke in 1999. It's not a huge part and not a well known movie, but a good flick and well worth hunting down.
The Rainmaker (1997) .... J. Lyman 'Bruiser' Stone
Coppola originally wrote Rourke a scene but test audiences reacted so well that he expanded it for the final version. I'm still not satisfied; his sleazy lawyer would make for a hell of a story on his own.
Bullet (1996) .... Butch
Crammed with solid actors (Tupac, Adrian Brody and the always-great Ted Levine), but it's a depressing tale about hopelessness and missed opportunity. Rourke plays it downbeat and fatalistic and lets the rest bounce off of him. Interesting choice. Did I mention that Ted Levine rules?
The Last Outlaw (1994) (TV) .... Colonel Graff
Another movie chock full of solid actors, this Western revenge tale is occasionally funny, usually tense and predominantly violent. Why Rourke is sporting a Fu Manchu and cold weather gear in the desert is still a mystery, but it won't stop you from enjoying the chase.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991) .... Harley Davidson
I don't care if you're laughing at me, because I was laughing a lot during this flick. Mick got paid a ton of money for this one and supposedly hates it, but he and Don Johnson have a nice Butch/Sundance thing going on and if you can put the improbable plot aside and just ride along, you'll like it too.
Johnny Handsome (1989) .... John Sedley
Ellen Barkin is anything but her naïve Diner character in this crime caper and Mick gets to chew the scenery a bit thanks to the physical transformations (early Marv?). The scene where he sees his new face in the mirror for the first time is first-rate stuff.
Homeboy (1988) .... Johnny Walker
Another self-penned project, maybe more autobiographical than you think. Another small guy trying to buck the odds, with great supporting cast. Criminally unavailable on DVD as of this writing.
Barfly (1987) .... Henry Chinaski
Critically acclaimed work but I'm wondering if anyone outside the media ever saw the film? Put this up against Nicholson's Ironweed and tell me which is a better performance.
Angel Heart (1987) .... Harold R. 'Harry' Angel
DeNiro started jumping the shark right around this point in his career, but Rourke was on a roll. This movie still creeps me out even after ten viewings! Mick masterfully has Angel slowly spiral towards his moments of revelation, and the ending is a classic.
Year of the Dragon (1985) .... Stanley White
I wasn't buying the "old" makeup for a moment, and the romantic subplot was a waste of film, but his doggedly determined cop pitted against a dynamic John Lone made for an exciting and memorable film.
The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) .... Charlie
Classic! He and Eric Roberts were casting perfection (although Ken McMillan and Geraldine Page almost steal the flick from under them). Another rock-solid cast and Rourke charms the pants off you. Eric Roberts can act rings around his sister but has fallen out of favor just like Mick; would be great to see him get a real part again.
Diner (1982) .... Robert 'Boogie' Sheftell
One of the best films ever made, period. A brilliant cast and writing that even made Steve Guttenberg sound intelligent. Mick as Boogie was electric - girls wanted to do him and guys wanted to be him. Cooler than the Fonz and more fragile than an egg.
Body Heat (1981) .... Teddy Lewis
Where it really started happening...small scenes but huge impact. Another character so well done you expect to see them play a larger and more pivotal role. And the movie? A pitch-perfect thriller.
Five Mickey Rourke Moments You Probably Did Miss
Like the scene-stealing role in Body Heat, sometimes one scene is all it takes to make an indelible mark. Of course, you need to see the movie first. Check these out!
Picture Claire (2001) .... Eddie
A small scene with the dynamic Gina Gershon (now there's an actress that I'd like to see share more screen time with Mick) but commands your attention and piques your interest.
The Pledge (2001) .... Jim Olstad
As the heartbroken father, Mick has a small but pivotal scene that proves how good an actor he can be with the right opportunity.
Animal Factory (2000) .... Jan the Actress
A bold and interesting choice that left jaws dropping...if people realized who they were looking at before the credits rolled.
Thursday (1998) .... Kasarov
Why this out-of-print DVD is going for hundreds of dollars is beyond me; I hope it's not for the nudity from the body doubles. It's a funny, violent and weird flick from this post-Tarantino era, and it just gets stranger when Mick shows up.
Buffalo '66 (1998) .... The Bookie
Vincent Gallo's odd but wonderful film had a gallery of great actors in small roles, Mick among them.
Five Mickey Rourke Movies You Really Should Miss
I hope he got paid for these.
They Crawl (2001) .... Tiny Frakes
Bugs, bugs, bugs. I know he was trying to work, but he was rolling up some nice bit parts in real films. He must have felt very desperate...or thought it was a comedy?
Love in Paris aka Another 9 1/2 Weeks (1997) .... John Gray
Back to the well, albeit a dry one. Godfather excepted, sequels never work.
Double Team (1997) .... Stavros
Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman. Need I say anything else?
Point Blank (1997) .... Rudy Ray
Horrible and painful; Mick as Rambo trying to stop a hostage standoff in a shopping mall. As ridiculous as it sounds.
Wild Orchid (1990) .... James Wheeler
More soft-core porn disguised as a plot. Someone should have told him to do Rain Man.
If you'd like to know more about movies or have questions about upcoming titles, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you next time!