Wednesday, February 25, 2009
One of the most fascinating chapters of Mickey Rourke’s career is the little seen 1988 drama Homeboy, a film directed by Michael Seresin and written by Rourke himself under the alias of Sir Eddie Cook. The film, seeming like a prelude to Rourke’s celebrated work as The Wrestler twenty years later, has always been deserving of a larger audience and a DVD is long overdue.
Centering on the struggles of an aging boxer named Johnny Walker, Homeboy is less a typical sports film and is more than anything else an intensive character study of a guy just past his prime. While the film does feature some incredible fight sequences, the heart of the work comes with Rourke’s largely silent and haunting performance, one that stands among his greatest.
Homeboy remains the only directorial credit for New Zealand born Cinematographer Seresin. Known for photographing films as diverse as Adrien Lyne’s stunning Foxes (1980) and Alfonso Cuaron’s terrific Harry Potter chapter, Seresin first met Rourke when he provided the moody cinematography to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart in 1987. While there has been some controversy concerning Seresin’s work on Homeboy, the film is in fact a very successful first feature.
Shot mostly in and around New Jersey’s Asbury Park, Homeboy is quite a fascinating little film that is most noteworthy for Rourke’s insightful script that really succeeds as an intelligent and probing character study. Rourke’s script is especially intriguing in the way that it approaches the relationship between Walker and the character of small time thief Wesley Pendergrass, played with a ferocious freshness by Christopher Walken. There are many instances where the film looks like it might steer straight into cliché but it turns the opposite corner each time, a fact that makes it one of the most refreshing ‘boxing’ films ever shot.
Becoming more and more disillusioned with Hollywood by the time he shot Homeboy, Rourke was at this point clearly trying to surround himself with people he trusted. He had been friends with Walken since their days at the Actors Studio in the seventies (plus they had both appeared in Cimino’s masterful Heaven’s Gate eight years before) and Homeboy’s romantic interest is played by none other than Rourke’s wife at the time, talented Debra Feuer who does the best screen work of her career here. There is something extremely knowing and incredibly honest about Homeboy, and I suspect that it’s failure to find an audience back in 1988 hurt Mickey Rourke as much anything else had in his career up to that point.
Featuring a lovely score courtesy of Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen (the soundtrack is a real winner) Homeboy is such a genuine film that it is easy to look past some of its faults. Overlong and not paced very well, the film could have benefited from some tightening. Despite some minor issues though, Homeboy stands as one of the best films from one of American films worst periods.
Homeboy never got a proper theatrical release. After playing in Europe for a brief period in late 1988, it was dumped unceremoniously on VHS in 1989. Barely getting any critical or popular attention at all, Mickey Rourke’s most personal project up to that point was barely seen and it's currently only avalaible in Europe, on a full frame DVD that is just barely an improvement on the original VHS.
Mickey Rourke has written two other films as Sir Eddie Cook, but neither F.T.W. (1994) nor Bullet (1996) contain the emotional impact that Homeboy does. Homeboy, despite being a great film in its own right, can now be viewed as a fascinating warm-up for The Wrestler, a film that it has a lot in common with. Perhaps a decent DVD will eventually appear, as both the film and Mickey Rourke deserve it.
***For more on Mickey and Homeboy please visit my friend LaShane's site, Mickey Rourke Walls***