> The Wrestler, a gritty low budget tale of a washed up pro wrestler directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) has been building upon extremely positive word of mouth at the recent Venice, Toronto and New York Film Festivals and is now one of the most anticipated end of year releases with Oscar recognition almost guaranteed for it’s leading man, Mickey Rourke.
After becoming disillusioned with acting towards the end of that decade, Rourke’s taste in material became more questionable and his bad boy antics came to dominate the tabloid headlines and overshadow his acting career.
Retiring from acting in 1991, Rourke took up his first love, boxing to become a professional fighter at the the age of 35 and practically disappeared from the industry for several years.
After middling success as a fighter, he returned to acting and hung up his gloves for good in 1995. His good looks had now faded and reconstructive surgery had altered his face permanently. Rourke had become a forgotten man in Hollywood and forced to take whatever roles he could get to pay the bills, he began the slow rehabilitation of his once promising career and took roles in direct to video schlock such as Exit in Red, Another 9 and a Half Weeks, Double Team and Bullet.
Bit parts and cameo roles in a range of independent films of varying quality followed over the next decade including notable performances in Buffalo 66 (1998), The Animal Factory (2000) and The Pledge (2001), all directed by actors ( Vincent Gallo, Steve Buscemi and Sean Penn respectively) who were all long-time admirers of Rourke.
As Rourke visibility increased and word spread about his new found professionalism , roles in more commercial projects started to come his way and with that managed to forge working relationships with Tex Mex tyro Robert Rodriguez on Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) and Sin City (2005) and with flash trash merchant Tony Scott on Man on Fire and Domino (both 2005)
In fact, it was his role as grotesque thug Marv in Rodriguez stylish comic book noir Sin City that was seen a comeback performance at the time. Rourke followed that up with by co-starring with Keira Knightley in the aforementioned Domino, bringing a grizzled authority to his role as a veteran bounty hunter and a throwaway role as the villain in a mediocre 2006 kids spy flick Stormbreaker.
In the last couple of years however its been quiet for Rourke apart from a role in the much delayed Elmore Leonard adaptation Killshot. Directed by John Madden(Shakespeare in Love)the film completed principal photography in December 2005 and has yet to be released.
So as a reminder of the guys talent and as a primer in anticipation of The Wrestler being released in early 2009. Also because I’ve been following the guys career since I was a moody teenager, I’ve assembled a series of clips from several of Rourke’s key performances in the 1980’s. Enjoy.
1. BODY HEAT (1981)
Rourke made people sit up and take notice for the first time with his small but crucial role as shady lowlife and occasional arsonist Teddy Lewis assisting a weak willed Florida lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) in his dubious scheme to kill off the husband of femme fatale siren Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner) in Lawrence Kasdan’s well regarded neo-noir.
2. DINER (1982)
Barry Levinson’s coming of age drama set in 1959 Baltimore about a group of twenty something friends who re-unite for their friends wedding was notable for launching several careers from its mostly male cast including Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern and regrettably Steve Guttenberg. However, it was Rourke as charismatic hairdresser Robert ‘Boogie’ Sheftell who stood out and received most of the accolades at the time of the film release.
3. POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE (1984)
Co starring with another 80’s method man, Eric Roberts, Rourke plays the slightly more responsible brother Charlie to Roberts reckless hoodlum Paulie in Stuart Rosenberg’s crime drama set in New York’s Little Italy.
4. THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985)
This overblown, borderline ridiculous piece of operatic pulp from Deer Hunter and Heavens Gate director Michael Cimino has at its centre, a Rourke performance of such outrageous self confidence as super-cop Stanley White, waging a one man war on corruption in New York’s Chinatown ( You know what your problem is Stanley? You care too much) that it makes you forget the fact he’s at least 10 years too young to be playing the part of a Vietnam Veteran.
5. BARFLY (1987)
Barbet Schroeder’s film sees Rourke channelling legendary booze hound and gutter poet Charlie Bukowski as Henry Chinaski in this vivid character study.
6. ANGEL HEART (1987)
As the shabby, unshaven private eye Harry Angel, Rourke is perfectly cast in Alan Parker’s supernatural mystery he tries to track down missing bandleader Johnny Favourite for the mysterious or not so mysterious Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro) in 1950’s New Orleans.
7. JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989)
In a role which could mirror his own life in terms of his now altered visage, Rourke plays a hideously disfigured criminal who after being double crossed in a botched robbery undergoes reconstructive surgery while in prison. Given the chance for a new life by a sympathetic prison surgeon (Forest Whitaker), Johnny appears to be a changed man but he’s still itching for some payback against the scumbags who betrayed him and killed his partner. Rourke underplays the character and manages to convey the inner conflict of Johnny as he struggles in vain to leave behind his former life and change his nature.