Mickey Rourke: The Wrestler
Eddie Harrison celebrates the return of Mickey Rourke by rememberingthe career highs and lows of a reluctant Hollywood icon
I’ve had a poster of Mickey Rourke on my wall for over 20 years now. A black and white blow-up from Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, it pictures Rourke as private detective Harry Angel, freshly demobbed after WWII, his hair back-combed into an untidy quiff, with a cigarette dangling from a insouciant smile. It’s the quintessential portrait of a movie star in his prime.
Despite its reputation as a commercial flop, Angel Heart ran at Glasgow’s Renfield Street Odeon for a marathon 16 weeks, and as a teenager, I was in the audience at least a dozen times to see one of the definitive tough guy performances of all time.
Two decades of awful films and performances later, many of us who had so admired Rourke’s early work had long given up on him. Rourke abandoned any pretence at serious acting in favour of his headstrong pursuit of a boxing career that distorted his features through reconstructive plastic surgery and seemed to leave him punch drunk when it came to choosing roles. Yet against all odds, Rourke has come back off the ropes and scored an undisputed knockout in Darren Aronofsky’s new release The Wrestler.
The role of Randy ‘the Ram’ Robinson was originally touted for Nicolas Cage, but proved tailor-made for the resurrection of Mickey Rourke. Recalling his 80’s heyday, Randy relives his past glories as he sits in his trailer playing a primitive video game based on his wrestling career, pumping himself up through bags of steroids. Randy’s down at heel yet defiant character offers poignant resonances for anyone who has tried to follow Rourke’s decline and fall.
Most hyped young actors suffer from Marlon Brando comparisons, but back in the 80’s, Rourke had carved out a niche of his own as an arson expert in Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat and as the smooth-talker in Barry Levinson’s talkfest Diner. Memorable starring roles piled up; as the laconic Motorcycle Boy in Coppola’s Rumblefish, or as a racist cop in Year of the Dragon.
Yet Rourke found his widest audience in his worst role, cast against type amongst the strawberries and cream of Adrian Lyne’s fruity erotic drama, 91/2 Weeks. Focused on the ring rather than the screen, Rourke seemed happy to be a bum rather than a contender, shrugging off his stardom in dire sci-fi buddy opus Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, or in tepid soft-porn yawn Wild Orchid, in which he sported a pink/orange tan that made him look like he’d been dipped in taramasalata.
Rourke found himself saved by the bell when he gave up boxing in 1997, although his work in the same year’s Love in Paris, a sequel to 91/2 Weeks, suggested he’d long since given up acting too. With his old Hollywood pals including Sean Penn (The Pledge) and Coppola (The Rainmaker) welcoming him back to the fold, it was only a matter of time before the boxer finally got back off the canvas and came out fighting. His once-handsome features may be mashed up beyond repair, but his talent is intact; his touching, self-mocking and brutally honest role in The Wrestler marks Rourke out as a contender reborn.
The Wrestler is on selected release from Fri 16 Jan.