Mickey Rourke has always admired Marlon Brando. And they seem to have a few things in common; Brando and Rourke were/are notoriously difficult to work with, both had an interest in sexually controversial films, and they are both known for being more famous for being who they were than they were for their acting. Brando once sent a Native American to accept his Oscar in protest. Rourke once walked off the set of a movie because the director would not allow Rourke’s chihuahua to be in the film. Brando once broke the jaw of a photographer. Rourke gave actor Jeff Kober a black eye for chatting with Rourke’s supermodel wife Carre Otis. But when you list great actors in your head, Mickey Rourke is not usually at the top. To be honest he doesn’t usually make the list. But the boxer turned actor, turned boxer, turned actor may be filming the movie that will change all that for good, The Wrestler.
A nice start
Rourke started out very promising. Those with a keen eye will spot him at the end of 1941 as a young soldier in a group of other soldiers. Even from that very short, uneventful shot, he seems to steal a little more attention than the rest. Rourke then saw the beginning of a very promising career in the mid 80’s. From films like Body Heat, Rumble Fish, and The Pope of Greenwich Village; Rourke was becoming known as a sort of gritty tough guy character actor with a lot of sex appeal. While his work in the cult classic Diner made him seem like a likable leading man type, it was there the talk of Rourke being difficult to work with began. He refused to eat with the rest of the case and seemed genuinely disrespectful of the other actors.
Then came the staring role he was waiting for in Adrian Lyne’s 9 1/2 Weeks. Lyne, right off the success of Flashdance, helped cast Rourke opposite Kim Basinger in the movie based loosely on Elizabeth McNeil’s book about a short relationship that was heavy on S & M. I can remember Roger Ebert reviewing the film and talking about the risk the actors were taking. As a matter of fact, he said it was the most sexually explicit big budget film since Marlon Brando’s Last Tango in Paris. The risk of course paid off. It was a role that helped launch Kim Basinger. But how it certainly helped, I don’t think it did the same for Rourke.
I do have to say on a side note that I think 9 1/2 Weeks was one of the most incredibly filmed movies made. You can pause the movie at just about any scene and print an incredible photograph.
Things start getting weird
After 9 1/2 Weeks Rourke went on to film a movie that makes a lot of film lovers top 10 list of all-time best movies, and I felt the performance that Rourke should be judged from, Angel Heart. This was another risky film for Rourke, and the substance and quality of the film were overshadowed by the erotic scenes done by Lisa Bonet, who was at the time playing the oldest daughter on the hit NBC show The Cosby Show, their strongest family show. Having Bonnet announce that she was raped by a demon, and that she enjoyed it, didn’t sit well with The Cos.
Angel Heart, despite being critically acclaimed, wasn’t the success Rourke really needed. But it was starting to put him in the box of “strange guy who does those sex movies”.
Rourke followed up with amazing performances in non-blockbuster films. Movies like Barfly and Homeboy (which by the way has an amazing soundtrack by Eric Clapton) allowed for flawless performances from Rourke, but were too gritty to appeal to mass audiences.
Things go from weird to flat out bizarre
From there things started to trend down for Rourke. He focused more on his boxing career, which despite the jokes at his expense, was successful but not long lived. He won a few fight where he was definitely the underdog, but at great expense. He suffered significant damage to his face, which required plastic surgery that never seemed to look right.
On top of the boxing career, Rourke starred in a string of what seemed to be almost intentionally bad movies. Films like Wild Orchid, and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man were hammering nails into the coffin of his acting career.
Throughout the mid-90’s, Rourke started popping up in cheesy, Cinemax quality movies. There was the occasional exceptions like his turn as Bruiser with Matt Damon in the John Grisham movie Rainmaker, or opposite Sylvester Stallone (the movie would have been better with them playing the opposite roles) in the crappy remake of Get Carter.
Things start looking up
Then it looks like sometime a little after 2000, Rourke started to pick up a little steam again. He did an awesome job in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, although Johnny Depp stole that movie from everyone involved.
2005 Became a great year for Rourke as he played Marv in Sin City, with by far the best monologue in the movie, and Ed in Keira Knightly’s attempt at gritty in Domino. It was in 2005 that I started to see just how popular Rourke was becoming again when I heard a teenage boy outside the Sin City theatre announce that Mickey Rourke is “bad ass”. A compliment I would imagine Rourke would accept from a younger audience with nearly Oscar like appreciation.
Rourke is scheduled to reprise his role of Marv in the highly anticipated Sin City 2, but even more blog buzz is being centered around the new movie, The Wrestler. In the Wrestler, Rourke plays a retired pro wrestler who returns to the “sport” in the early days of it’s big popularity boom. The film is being watched by not only fans of the wrestling world, but also people watching Rourke play a role that seems like a second chance to become known as great.
When you consider how short the list would be of actors with the build, general look, and acting talent this role would require, it’s hard to imagine director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem of a Dream, The Fountain) going with anyone else. Aronofsky is also going to be working on the Bard Pitt, Mark Wahlberg film The Fighter, also set in the 80’s. I’m sensing a theme. The Wrestler also stars Marisa Tomei as Rourke’s stripper girlfriend.
Many people close to the film are saying that Rourke is on top of his game for this, and that it could be a breakthrough performance from an under acknowledged actor. Rourke has had a rough time getting roles, not unlike the Brando Blacklist. But sometimes all it takes is the right role to remind the world of the talent that made you famous. Hopefully this Raging Bull (yes, I know that’s Robert DiNero) like story will be that role for Rourke.