Sunday, July 25, 2010

Canon Movie Review: Johnny Handsome

Yesterday, the names of actors Mickey Rourke and Morgan Freeman entered frequently into a conversation I was having with my sister. I'm not exactly sure why, since we were not talking about movies at all, but that's what happened. So today, I was in the mood to see a movie or two, so I decided to go to the and find movies that link Mickey Rourke to Morgan Freeman. Luckily, both men starred in a 1989 film called Johnny Handsome, Rourke starred as the titular character John "Johnny Handsome" Sedley, while Freeman plays police detective Lt. A.Z. Drones. I wonder just how many films has Freeman played a police detective or some sort of investigator? Got to be at least eight. Johnny Handsome also stars Ellen Barkin, Forest Whitaker, Elizabeth McGovern, and Lance Henriksen. The movie was directed by Walter Hill, who also directed 48 Hrs. and The Warriors.

Set in New Orelans, a disfigured crook named John Sedley (Rourke) joins forces with his friend Mikey (Scott Wilson as well as Rafe Garrett (Henriksen) and his partner Sunny Boyd (Barkin) on a robbery of a rare coin store. The robbery goes bad once Rafe and Sunny turn on Mikey, shooting him in cold blood and leaving Johnny Handsome to take the rap. While on a work release program, Sedley is nearly killed by two prisoners paid off by Rafe to finish him. As Sedley is recovering from his wounds, Dr. Steven Fisher (Whitaker) wants to fix Sedley's face, and believes that with a new face and a new identity, Sedley will be able to change his life. Sedley gets a new name (John Mitchell) and reports of his death are put in the newspaper so no one outside of Fisher and Det. Graves, who handles Johnny Handsome's cases. While Mitchell gets a job at a shipyard and starts a relationship with a secrutary named Donna (McGovern), it's Graves's belief that it's only a matter of time before Johnny Handsome goes back to his old ways and seeks revenge for his friend Mikey. A few notes about this movie:

- At the beginning of the movie, Rourke talks as if he has a bunch of marbles in his mouth, due to the extreme disfigurement of his face. It makes it hard to understand what he's saying, but it is a nice touch of realism. Also, after he has the reconstructive surgery on his face, instead of just instantly talking like a normal person, they show Rourke learning to use his new face to talk properly. 

- According to, Al Pacino was originally cast as Johnny Handsome, and even helped the producers rewrite the script at one point. But after a few rewrites, Pacino dropped out because he felt the movie would not be a success due to the script's "B-Movie qualities" Two things here, first of all, with all of the lackluster movies Pacino has starred in recently (Any Given Sunday, Gigli, 88 Minutes, etc.), it's funny to see that he chose not to do this movie due to a poor script. Secondly, although Pacino is one of my favorite actors ever, I'm not exactly sure that he could have played the part any better than Rourke did. Rourke just did an excellent job here, from the beginning of the movie where he was a disfigured crook, to the process of the surgery and rehabilitation, all the way to the end. Even though he's kind of a scumbag,  Rourke really makes you feel for Selbey/Mitchell, and you're hoping throughout the movie that he takes advantage of his new found fortune. If this part were in the hands of most other actors, it either would end up being unintentionally comedic or they would make the character look unsympathetic, but Rourke had a tough task and pulled it off. His performance was easily the best part of the movie.

- That's not to say that Morgan Freeman did a bad job as Lt. A.Z. Drones. In fact, he did his typically stellar job, even though his character had little depth whatsoever and we find out little about him other than the fact that he's the only person that thinks Johnny Handsome will revert to his old ways. Forest Whitaker also turned in a decent performance as Dr. Steven Foster, although it was a little odd to see him with a full beard.

- Although I wouldn't exactly put Johnny Handsome in the film noir category, it did seem as if Hill tried to include some film noir elements in this film. For one, most of the movie seems to take place in the shadows and the darkness, particulalry the climatic scene. The protaganist is a down-on-his-luck criminal with major issues. The soundtrack sounds as if it came straight out of a noir film from the 1940s, and overall, the film has a pessimistic view of life. I'm sure someone more familiar with the film noir could explain it better than I can, but that was the impression I got from this film.

- One thing I wasn't particularly keen on was the portrayal of the main villains Rafe and Sunny. Barkin was just way over the top as Sunny Byrd, to the point where it was hard to take anything she did or say seriously. Meanwhile it seemed like Henriksen was trying too hard to be this super tough guy, yet Rafe looks kind of ridicolous with his penchant of wearing sleeveless shirts at all times. It was kind of hard to see Rafe as a huge threat when Sunny seemed to be calling most of the shots and due to the fact that, well, he looked like an idiot. As far as Elizabeth McGovern's performance as Donna, well, I have no complaints about that. I thought she did well given the material given her.

- This seems a bit odd to me, but Johnny Handsome had three Oscar Nominated Best Actors (Rourke, Freeman, and Whitaker) as well as Barkin, who at one point was one of the most well-known actresses in Hollywood, and was directed by a then big-name director in Hill, yet this movie seems to have fallen through the cracks somewhat. Go figure.

Overall, this movie wasn't too bad, although the script could have been better and there were a couple of plot holes. Plus, although Rourke and Freeman were excellent, the rest of the acting was either unspectacular or just not that good. However, I liked more about this film than I disliked, so I'll give it a 5.9 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future posts, than let us know them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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