Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A glass of bourbon for Michael Rooker

We would like to raise a glass of Wild Turkey in honor of the great and underrated Michael Rooker, a bona-fide "that guy" who is always a joy to watch and who has shown up in a variety of interesting and fun films.

The man himself, looking cool in standard American cop gear: Leather jacket, gun and scowl

Rooker first gained notice (and notoriety) in the role of serial killer Henry Lucas in Henry: Portrait of a serial killer. The film was made for the price of a pack of gum and a lottery ticket by director John McNaughton who would go on to direct the excellent and underrated Mad Dog and Glory as well as the 1998 guilty-pleasure of-the year Wild Things (starring Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon's johnson).

Kevin Bacon doing his thing. An emasculated Matt Dillon looks on in despair.

Henry was instrumental in pushing the MPAA to develop the NC-17 rating and was extremely controversial at the time. Even though it didn't set new standards in graphic violence (though it is abundantly present) it portrayed the on-screen horror completely objectively, neither judging nor glorifying its subject matter. Rooker's portrayal is subtle and human, creating a real person who is completely controlled by his inner demons, a man-child who is capable of both tenderness and extreme brutality. The film was made in 1986 but wasn't released until 1990 and suffered somewhat from being pitted against another little serial killer film that came out that same year: Silence of the Lambs.

Michael Rooker in Henry: Portrait of a serial killer

Rooker garnered many film offers and notices after Henry and went on to star in such films as Tombstone, Above the Law, Eight Men Out, Cliffhanger, The Sixth Day and the recent Jumper. Some of his most notable appearances have been as creepy murderers and villains, due to his Henry fame, though Rooker has also turned in some wonderful roles as very sympathetic and kind characters. His ability to play both kind and cruel comes from a wonderful acting range and an interesting physical presence. He is large and imposing (at least on screen) with a gruff voice but his eyes are kind and he has a wide, honest smile. One of his most memorable roles was in the underrated thriller Sea of Love where he starred opposite Al Pacino and Ellin Barkin. He was also memorable as Sylvester's Stallone's partner in the mountain-climbing actioner Cliffhanger. Rooker also starred in Michael Mann's L.A. Takedown which Mann later remade as Heat. In an interesting twist of fate, Rooker played Bosko, Vincent Hannah's (Al Pacino in Heat) partner in L.A. Takedown. In Heat this role was played by Ted Levine, he of Silence of the Lambs penis-tucking fame (I haven't felt the same way about putting lotion in a basket since I saw that film).

Ted Levine asking you to handle your lotion appropriately.

So let's raise our glasses and say a hearty "SKÁL!" for The Rooker. May his easily identifiable mug and elusive name remain in our cinematic hearts for many years to come.

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