Friday, December 22, 2006
Had he been lucky enough to have been born just ten years earlier, and come to prominence in the 70's, Mickey Rourke would today be spoken of in the same breath as Pacino, DeNiro and Nicholson.
Luck was never something Mickey Rourke ever seemed to have though. The last few years have seen a bit of a resurgence thanks to director's like Robert Rodriguez and actor's like Johnny Depp wanting to work with him. These guys grew up, like I did, watching and loving this guy. They haven't forgotten just how supremely gifted and beautiful this man was in his prime before whatever demons he carries within him took over.
While the 1980s without question contain some of the worst trends and films in history Mickey Rourke was fortunate enough, for at least a few years, to escape it. The best of his films, Barfly, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Angel Heart, Diner, Year Of The Dragon, Homeboy and Johnny Handsome all seem outside of the decade even though they were right in the middle of it.
Watch Rumble Fish again and watch Mickey Rourke's Motorcycle Boy. All of those early comparisons to Brando seem now not only correct but prophetic. Here were two gifted individuals that had an early explosive career but lost their footing somewhere along the line for their refusal to compromise the beliefs that had originally driven them. The Manic Street Preachers would later write a song about Mickey Rourke in Rumble Fish, about that character who knew that time had passed him by. It was called Motorcycle Emptiness.
Johnny Depp has said his favorite film is The Pope Of Greenwich Village and it features Mickey and that other great doomed actor from the 80's, Eric Roberts, at their peak. The moment towards the end when Mickey faces off with Burt Young and whispers 'I'm The Pope of Greenwich Village now' gives me chills just thinking about it. It also seems to be the film Mickey likes the best or at least one of the only ones he gives a damn about. Watch him lamenting the unfair way Eric Roberts career was destroyed on the Angel Heart DVD interviews and it's easy to see that he's also talking about himself.
Barfly is widely considered his best role, Angel Heart is his most famous. He has said that both A Prayer For The Dying and Nine and a Half Weeks were masterpieces before they were tampered with by the studios. The cutting of the Adrian Lynne film especially seemed to prove a breaking point as it was soon after that you can start to see the stitching coming apart.
Homeboy and Johnny Handsome were his last gasps of greatness. He wrote Homeboy under the name Eddie Cook and it's a brutal, multi-layered performance that was hardly seen by anyone. Walter Hill's Johnny Handsome was a film that Pacino had developed for years that he eventually dropped out of. It's the last really great performance Mickey gave for a long time.
After Johnny Handsome he became a man without a net turning to boxing allowing his beautiful face to get more and more beaten and caved in. He would make the worst films possible and by the mid 90's would be un-insurable for any major films. One of his mentor's, and Rumble Fish director, Francis Ford Coppola would cast him in The Rainmaker in an attempt to help an old friend after regretting not casting him in Godfather 3.
The last ten years have seen lots more bad films but several interesting roles have been given to him by people who idolized him in the 80s. Vincent Gallo would give him a chilling cameo in Buffalo 66, Sean Penn would do the same in The Pledge and Bob Dylan would personally choose him for Masked and Anonymous.
It would be Robert Rodriguez and Johnny Depp who would be the most outspoken and important to his resurgence as of late. Mickey all but steals both Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Sin City playing guys who find a bit of nobility past their prime. They are both killers, dangerous but they are of the heart. Mickey's scenes with Carla Gugino in Sin City would be the best work he had done since Johnny Handsome.
Tony Scott's Domino was the big surprise giving Mickey his largest role in years and he seemed to make everyone around him, including Keira Knightley, rise to the challenge. While the film remains flawed Mickey is magnificent and gives proof that he could carry a film again.
He'll probably blow it though, that old devil luck still isn't in his corner. A truly unfortunate falling out with Tarantino had him removed from the upcoming Grindhouse and one can't help but think that might have been the film that could have truly saved him. His face is near unrecognizable now, he'll never be beautiful again like he was and whether or not he'll ever be given the chance to give another great performance is up in the air. Rodriguez has cast him again in Sin City 2 and more films are on the horizon. I can only hope that one day one of the many talents Mickey influenced will give him a role that will give the real Pope his due.