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Greek mythology has been source for a lot of epic films, including and probably most notably Desmond Davis‘ 1981 classic Clash of the Titans, though many have come before and after. With The Immortals, the story follows the early years when immortals were at war, with the winners crowned as gods and the defeated as Titans, they banished to reign imprisoned among themselves beneath Mount Tartarus. Centuries later, the mortal king Hyperion (Rourke) seeks the The Epirus Bow, a weapon of immense power to release the fallen in effort to punish the gods for failing to secure the health of his family and by its success be ruler of the world. One problem, a mortal named Theseus (Henry Cavill), selected by Zeus, sets out to stop him. Epic, action-packed story is all eye-candy but Rourke goes full-on Rourke, perfectly cast as the power-hungry king. Legends be damned, this is fun stuff.
While the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of the S. E. Hinton novel The Outsiders got a lot of attention, his follow-up, another Hinton adaption, didn’t fare as well, which is too bad because it’s a sensational flick full of style and great performances. It follows the story of a former gang leader and notoriously vicious thug named Motorcyle Joe (Rourke) who has turned his life around but now has to try and stop his younger brother Rusty James (Matt Dillon) from following the same path, a tough kid looking to fill in his big brother’s old shoes. Filmed almost entirely in black & white with color accents, the noir-ish style and excellent direction keep this an emotional experience with Rourk spinning a passionate turn as a guy only looking to move on from his past but drawn back in by the compulsion of his brother. Do yourself a favor and seek this out. It’s great filmmaking.
A painfully forgotten film, this Michael Cimino film may not have the staying power of some of the more well-known in the genre, but this is nonetheless a powerful gangster movie that deserves a wider audience. Cimino was just off his colossal box office dud Heaven’s Gate so critics were tepid to jump aboard, but the years have been good to this ambitious tale. It follows Stanley White (Rourke), a Vietnam Vet serving as a decorated police captain assigned to New York City’s tough Chinatown where he aims to stamp out organized crime. He faces off against Joey Tai ( the sensational John Lone) in a magnetic conflict that is filled with violence, style, and grit. Rourke is absolutely commanding here and while there are tons of great moments, its railroad shootout at the end is one of cinema’s best. Don’t hesitate to put this on your list.
Johnny Handsome in a crime thriller from the legendary Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 hrs.) and is another woefully underrated film that deserves a second (or first) look. It follows a criminal named John Sedley who has a disfigured face, hence the moniker. He’s eventually double-crossed by his partner Sunny Boyd (Ellen Barkin) and her partner, landing Handsome in jail. Naturally, while imprisoned, Johnny plots revenge, and when he meets a surgeon looking to try some experimental work on facial reconfiguration, well, he’s got nothing to lose. Let back into society, you can guess what he’s up too, even as he puts on a clean face, so to speak, getting a legit job and dating a nice girl. Rourke is so good as Handsome, you forget the blatant silliness of the plot and get sucked right into the story, one that in Hill’s hands is dark and dirty. Co-starring Morgan Freeman, this is a chiller with some standout performances that give Rourke a great stage to let loose. Don’t let this one slip past.
Everyone once in awhile a film comes along that is so good you wonder how it’s not more popular, more recognized and studied. More everything. Why aren’t people still talking about it? Well, Angel Heart is one of those films, and while admittedly, it’s a dark one, it’s sensational, a film so rich with context and symbolism, you have to see it multiple times to truly ‘get it.’ This is Rourke’s greatest work, and that’s said with great respect for his performance in The Wrestler. To explain the plot would be to reveal what you must experience on your own, but it follows a detective on a mission from a mysterious benefactor looking for something precious. Director Alan Parker‘s vision is incredible and you must watch carefully to really ‘see’ what is happening. A masterpiece of direction, production and acting, it features an uncharacteristic Robert De Niro and a smoldering Lisa Bonet in support. And it almost never got released. Put everything else aside and watch this movie.