Yeah: I always thought Mickey Rourke was a genius – in the truest purest sense of the word – from the first time I saw Angel Heart. Or – let’s say: I’m not into the whole “next Brando” thing because I believe actors are originals … Brando was Brando, Rourke is Rourke … but in terms of the level of the gift – so far and beyond what his peers are bringing to the table … Yes. I have always put Rourke in that pantheon. His backing out of the scene left the way clear for Russell Crowe to take over … and yet Rourke, by his very absence, continues to dominate. Isn’t that always the way.
In Diner, he is a delight to watch. Brando-ish in his inventive-ness, his freedom, his specificity. That over-the-top yet totally-connected Method-y performance (“Kid,” he says, with a wry already tired smile, when he discovers his best friend is still a virgin, “you gotta lot to learn …”) is still startling and juicy to watch today. Rourke had an internal mechanism that kept him from pushing too much … and he also had a fearless non-literal approach to things which make certain moments POP off the screen (like pouring the sugar down his throat). I am still excited watching him work.
He’s the genuine article – and even his straying from the path of his own talent is essential to understanding him, it was a true impulse (although frustrating for those of us who love him), it came from the depths of his soul. He’s not a careerist. Brando never was either. They get lost. They get distracted. They do other things. Life is long. Life is messy. Not a straight line. These men are so gifted that they are careless with that gift … the genius is so innate that they don’t treasure it – why should they? It’s like having blue eyes, why congratulate yourself for it? Or, more on point, the acting talent of those two men can be seen as being akin to having perfect pitch or a photographic memory or being a prodigy of some kind. Being that good at something is not always accompanied by an overflowing feeling of gratitude and humility. No. That is the provenance of the more mediocre folks, who KNOW how lucky they are, who maybe are not as good at whatever it is… they have to work harder for lesser results – so they hover over what they have and are thankful (or bitter, depending on the person). Whatever it is: they are CAREFUL with whatever small gift they have been given. Geniuses are notoriously clumsy and careless with their own brilliance because it comes so easily to them (we’re moving into Salieri/Mozart territory here) … At times it seems like the gift (for whatever it is) comes from outside of themselves – it’s almost like an accident – and so while it may be irritating to see someone throw a career out the window – it is part and parcel of the journey of these types of people (throughout history, I might add).
Rourke’s 5 minute cameo in The Pledge is one of the most powerful pieces of acting I have ever seen – hands down – it was almost unwatchable in its intensity, I looked away at one point to give that character his privacy with his own grief … the camera seemed too invasive, the pain he was experiencing too acute (more like agony) to be witnessed – and while I thought that movie was quite good – it is only his scene that I really remember.
I don’t think too many people are “geniuses” at acting. I think people sometimes hit a genius moment by being cast in a perfect part at the perfect time. I think there is a kind of on-again off-again relationship with genius (which is typical in other disciplines as well). I also think there is skill, and perhaps a gift of imagination, and craftsmanship (all wonderful things) – but only a few people (Duse, Rowlands, Brando, Judy Garland at times) are maestros. Untouchable in their authenticity. Rourke is one of them. I saw it from the start.
Can’t wait to see The Wrestler.
Go read the whole thing – pretty wonderful analysis, I think.
I just had to put in my two cents about The Pledge which is not mentioned in the piece.
I’ve been a fan for over 20 years now! It hasn’t always been easy – I’ve had to watch a lot of crap, not to mention soft-core p0rn (some of it rather enjoyable – but still, a bit sad because it was HIM doing it)…. but that’s okay. Once I love you, I love you for good. I rarely “turn” on someone – especially not because of private or personal behavior which spills out into tabloid fodder. I don’t care about any of that. I care about Pope of Greenwich Village and Diner and Angel Heart and The Pledge and Sin City. It’s the GIFT I cherish. Regardless.
It’s about time you got the props you deserve.