My Top 5 Mickey Rourke Performances.

by | May 8, 2010 | POLITICS

Like so many things I enjoy, I was introduced to the one and only Mickey Rourke by my father. This is the same guy who hooked me up Stephen King, Spider-Man, and Bruce Lee.

Like so many things I enjoy, I was introduced to the one and only Mickey Rourke by my father. This is the same guy who hooked me up Stephen King, Spider-Man, and Bruce Lee. To this day, my father and I tend to agree on most things within the realm of entertainment, and perhaps that’s because he always introduced me to cool shit, grooming me, if you will. For instance, on my thirteenth birthday, the old man gave me The Best of the Doors, and I was like “What the hell is this?” at first, but it wasn’t long before I was thanking him. This is the guy who got me out of school one day so we could see a matinee of Predator, the same man who would wake me up after my mother had gone to sleep and give me whatever R-rated film they had rented so I could watch it before he dropped it off on his way to work the next day. Regardless, he was a fan of Rourke’s work, and therefore I soon found myself watching this off-the-charts actor with a larger-than-life persona in studio pictures like The Pope of Greenwich Village and Diner, and quixotic gems like Barfly and White Sands. I quickly became a big fan as well, and I watched his fall from grace with genuine sadness.

Here was a guy who had Hollywood by the balls at the height of his career, an actor who was as in demand as anyone has ever been, and then his star plummeted and he faded out of the limelight with astounding quickness. Years after his boxing run he returned to acting in a series of low-budget films. For a while, it seemed like Hollywood had completely turned its back on him, until quality work arrived in the form of bit parts for directors like Tony Scott and Robert Rodriguez. It was an invigorating comeback that gained steam when he was cast as Marv in Sin City and ratcheted into high gear with 2009’s The Wrestler, a film he should have won Best Actor for. Now Rourke is kicking ass as Ivan Vanko in the Marvel blockbuster Iron Man 2 and thrilling a new generation of fans.

I’ve been along for the ride for two decades now, and let me assure you that it has been an interesting run. If possible, I think Rourke is a hotter commodity now than ever before, and for a long time it seemed like a return to prominence wouldn’t pan out for this prolific outsider, a man who has thrived on talent and personal excess.

I’m glad to see Mickey back on top, and I had a very hard time deciding on my Top 5 for this absolute one of a kind. If you need a guy who can fearlessly emote and completely disappear inside his character, he’s one of a handful of guys working who can accomplish that. If you need someone who can do that while looking like an ultimate badass, you need Mickey Rourke.

Before we begin, I want you to know that I have all but forbidden myself from including Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man on this list. It may be a good bad movie, but it’s still a bad movie, right? Oh, but I love it.
All right, now that I’ve sacrificed my integrity in the name of transparency, let’s begin.

1) The Wrestler – Talk about parts no one else could have played–the authenticity here is impeccable. This is a detailed account of a fading pro wrestler’s attempt at a big comeback, and the parallels are obvious. What’s also obvious is Rourke’s overwhelming talent, and this picture won over virtually everyone who saw it. I truly believe that in the end, the subject matter stands as the biggest reason he didn’t bring home an Oscar. Regardless, his performance is masterful, and he is required to do a hell of a lot. I am sure that this film took both a physical and emotion toil on him, but Darren Aronofsky utilized his prowess to great effect. The Wrestler is a moving film that benefits from a legendary performance, and it surely represents Mickey at his very best.

2) Angel Heart – Alan Parker’s bizarre and frightening adaptation of William Hjortsberg ‘s novel Fallen Angel is a grimy descent into madness and despair, and Mickey delivers a haunting performance that cements this horrific gem. Amazingly, Rourke claims that he feels he did a bad job, but I don’t know if he’s referring to his acting or his behavior on set, because his acting is phenomenal. I don’t know if I have ever witnessed a more intense performance, particularly when he takes his game to daring new heights in the closing reel. The film is equally impressive, and as Rourke’s Harry Angel, a down-and-out gumshoe on a case from hell—literally—draws closer to the truth, we draw closer to one of the most frightening endings in movie history. A masterpiece that has never truly received the praise it is due.

3) Year of the Dragon – Michael Cimino’s severely underrated thriller stars Rourke as Stanley White, a bigot with a grudge against Asians. He’s also the cop charged with cleaning up Chinatown, and he goes to work with a vengeance. His dogged approach yields results but also lands him in hot water. Before long, Rourke’s Stanley White is the least popular man in his police department and the most wanted man in the streets, which is a tough act to pull off. John Lone plays Joey Tai, a ruthless young mobster who is making a power play in the local branch of the Yakuza while White wages war with Chinatown’s seedy underbelly. We know White and Tai are on a collision course from start to finish, and both actors excel in their roles, giving the film power and momentum. Their personal war yields casualties on both sides, and the stars deliver rich performances that give us a firm understanding of how far each is willing to go, and you had better believe that they’re both willing to go all the way. The jarring conclusion is so very appropriate, the picture so complex, and Rourke is as good as ever. Year of the Dragon will always be a personal favorite of mine.

4) Sin City – It’s a shame I used “Talk about parts no one else could have played” for The Wrestler, because that sentiment would certainly fit here as well. Rourke was perfectly cast as Frank Miller’s beloved Marv in the Sin City film directed by Robert Rodriguez, and he delivered the goods, stealing the show in the first segment. I love Bruce Willis as much as the next guy, but The Hard Goodbye probably should have closed out the show instead of kicking things off, Then again, what do I know? Mickey was the only choice for the role, I know that much. Marv is a hulking lunatic whose motives are questionable at best, but within the context of this pulp classic, he’s a hero on a crusade, fighting for justice in a world without order. Marv doles out punishment with glee, maiming cops and criminals alike, thought the cops presented here are footsoldiers on an evil politician’s payroll. Rourke brings the bandage-shrouded bruiser to life in style, crafting a nuanced performance that really put Sin City on the map. This oddball feature was certainly a gamble, and I think Mickey helped to ensure that it became a huge success.

5) Iron Man 2 – It’s probably a bit early for this, but Iron Man 2 provides Rourke with a great part as villain Ivan Vanko. The film itself is a massive spectacle filled with sound performances, but Rourke really made the movie for me. I noted in my review of the picture that his physique is a huge part of his character’s costume, and for that reason alone it is impossible to picture anyone else being nearly as impressive in the role. The character has a lot of layers, and he excels in his scenes with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and several choice bits with Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. Iron Man is a powerful character, and such a hero requires a powerful adversary. Who better than Mickey to fill such a part? Vanko winds up being such a threat that if Iron Man didn’t have War Machine at his side, things might have gone differently. Iron Man 2 is not only one of the biggest films Rourke has ever participated in, it is also yet another picture that benefits from a stirring performance by one of the industry’s most intriguing talents ever.

Rourke has been doing this for a while, so there are quite a few films of note that were left off of my list. I’m sure purists want to know where Body Heat is, and I’m not the only one who considers Harley Davidson and The Marlboro Man a guilty pleasure. Nine ½ Weeks, Johnny Handsome, Bullet, and Rumble Fish are all fine films that feature strong performances courtesy of Rourke. All of the films I alluded to in my introduction are entertaining, and there are many more that I still haven’t mentioned (including indie treasures like Spun and Thursday) but I’m sure you get the point. Mickey Rourke is a terrific performer who has had a truly memorable career. If you’re just now getting acquainted with this gifted oddball, I strongly suggest that you take time to cheek out his entire body of work. He has been in business since 1980, and he has starred in countless films. I challenge you to find a mundane performance in the mix.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work:

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