Is the Resurrection of Mickey Rourke for Real?

At Film School Rejects, we believe that yelling the loudest makes us right. Every week we test that theory, and this week was particularly heated as we ask a question that must be on everyone’s mind. This whole renewal of Mickey Rourke’s career – is it for real? We’ve seen The Wrestler – it’s phenomenal, yes, but is it enough to keep the Rourke Train rolling? Will we see him at the Oscars in ten years?

This week’s contenders: Josh Radde and Rob Hunter. This week’s totally timely question: Is the resurrection of Mickey Rourke for real?

Opening Statements

JOSH RADDE: Dear Mr. Hunter–

I hear tale of the fact that you don’t believe Mickey Rourke’s resurrection is for real. Rourke, who received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler has received nothing but the highest marks for his performance, sparking one of the most talked about movie events last year (next to Heath Ledger’s Joker and Robert Downey Jr. going blackface for Tropic Thunder).

With roles in upcoming thrillers like 13 and Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables, as well as rumors that he’ll be starring in both Iron Man 2 and Sin City 2, how can you say that Mickey Rourke’s “comeback” is a flash in the pan?

ROB HUNTER: You hear correct Senor Radde, but this may just come down to a matter of semantics. Is Rourke getting more press and goodwill from The Wrestler than he has for any other film in the past twenty years? Yes. Will he be seeing a career resurrection equal to John Travolta’s after Pulp Fiction or even Robert Downey Jr.‘s after Iron Man? Not a chance in hell. But maybe he’ll get the same bump that Robert Forster saw after Jackie Brown. Lots of talk around that Oscar-nominated performance too…

As far as Rourke’s Oscar nomination goes, I say big whoop. And if, nay, when he wins? I say double big whoop. Frank Langella is nominated too… is this his rebirth after the low of showing his flapping wiener in Lolita? Rourke’s upcoming film slate is all genre films that he could have gotten with or without The Wrestler. Do you see him managing any kind of serious return to dramatic films? Does anyone want to see his puffy, weather-beaten face licking cottage cheese from Megan Fox’s cleavage in Nine and 1/2 Weeks Later? I think not.

The Rebuttals

Sin City: The Real ResurrectionJOSH RADDE: Who was talking about Robert Forster? Rourke is on the cover of several major magazines. And how does being in genre pics not solidify longevity? You mention Downey, but he was brought back into the limelight BY PLAYING IRON MAN. His performance in Tropic Thunder would not have gotten the same buzz if Iron Man hadn’t preceded it. And who’s to say he can’t make a return to dramatic film? Who’s also to say that his return to dramatic film would be the only criteria to consider in a comeback? If Steven Seagal made a righteously awesome action movie tomorrow, that got box office and moderate critical success, would that not be considered a comeback? If Pauly Shore gave us a funny performance in a comedy that people gave one shit about, wouldn’t that be considered a comeback as well?

It may just be me, but I consider Sin City his “comeback” already. It was a full 3 years before The Wrestler, so doesn’t that prove his longevity anyway? If he does those movies he’s either already doing or rumored to be doing, he should be commercially viable well into 2011.

ROB HUNTER: Semantics it is… yes, Rourke has entered the pop culture zeitgeist once again, however briefly, and that may count as your “comeback.” But your opening statement above referred to “Rourke’s resurrection” which is the point I take issue with.

Rourke has never stopped working. His IMDB page may read like Kevin Carr’s grocery list, long and filled with things that cause guacamole farts, but he’s worked consistently and had one or more movies per year since his glory days in the mid-eighties. So attention from The Wrestler isn’t going to get him any more work. Better work? Maybe, for the short term anyway. A higher percentage of work that hits theaters instead of straight-to-DVD? Probably, but as you pointed out, he hasn’t exactly been absent from the big screen in recent years… Sin City, Domino, Man On Fire, The Pledge, Get Carter… Notice the trend of solid genre pics. I’m not knocking genre movies, I love ‘em, but he’s already been doing them for decades. He’s no more “commercially viable” now then he has been for the past twenty years.

So if Rourke’s resurrection doesn’t increase his work-load, doesn’t improve the quality of his films, doesn’t broaden the types of films he appears in… what’s left to resurrect?

Closing Arguments

Mickey Rourke: Always a Bridesmaid?JOSH RADDE: I’m obviously talking about quality. What’s jarring about The Wrestler is how capable Rourke is. It may be that he found the role of a lifetime, but The Wrestler shows that he can do something outside of the genre in which he’s been living so comfortably. Directors used to hear the name Mickey Rourke and think “Hollywood nutjob whose been nominated for a Razzie”–but Aronofsky (and to an extent Frank Miller) gave him roles in large parts that could make or break the movie. He’s always been fine in supporting roles like in The Rainmaker, Man on Fire, or Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or been relegated to films like the one’s you’ve mentioned that didn’t aspire to be much anyway.

But now Rourke’s been propelled into a higher stratosphere of filmmaking. It didn’t take until he was in Pulp Fiction for directors to start looking at Travolta seriously, before that he was Danny Zuko and one of the Sweathogs from “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Before Tom Hanks did Philadelphia he was known primarily as a comedic actor. I’m not saying that Mickey Rourke’s future success is guaranteed or even if there’s a way he won’t squander it because maybe he’s not the caliber of actor as his performance in The Wrestler leads us to believe–but at least it’s different from his other roles and makes him more accessible to audiences (as well as directors).

And don’t tell me he would’ve been considered for Iron Man 2 if The Wrestler didn’t come along. That’s ridiculous. Super hero movies nowadays are so high profile that they attract not only commercially successful actors, but also proven thespians as well. No way is Rourke considered without The Wrestler. Favreau had to go to bat to get a proven actor like Downey into the role in the first place–if he had come to them with the idea of Rourke a year ago, they would’ve said “No” immediately.

ROB HUNTER: Rourke did a good job in an average movie, nothing more. (The resulting hub-bub is out of proportion, but that’s another issue all together.) A great performance isn’t completely alien to him though… Angel Heart? Barfly? Wild Orchid? It’s no surprise he knows how to act, it’s just been an admittedly long time since he did so convincingly.

Like I said, he’s in the public eye again because of The Wrestler, and he’ll book a few more gigs that he maybe wouldn’t have gotten prior to it, but I still don’t see much changing for him. This was a fluke. Watch his upcoming movies, notice how he’s part of ensembles instead of the central star. That won’t change. He’s not a commercial draw. He can’t open a movie. Period. And really? “A higher stratosphere of filmmaking?”

The only true resurrections last year belonged to Robert Downey Jr and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Downey is capitalizing on his properly with sequels and other high profile films. Van Damme is quite possibly squandering his with a self-directed film that almost sounds like his usual fare. (His agent should have been on Stallone’s doorstep getting Van Damme a role in The Expendables!) But Rourke? Rourke will show up in more mediocre movies, he’ll whine about not being interested in Sin City 2 once he has an Oscar, he’ll ham his way through Iron Man 2, and he’ll fade back to direct-to-DVD movies and big-screen genre fare. No disgrace in that. But no resurrection or glory either.

The Final Verdict

As usual, we leave the final word up to you. Is Rourke really back in the good graces of commercial viability or will his name still fail to sell a film on its own? Is it Hollywood leading man once more or permanent ensemble member?

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