Mar 25, 2009


Contrary to what might be taken from the title, this is not bi-racial film about struggles within Harlem to fend off illegal immigrants that moved in a couple blocks down. Rather, this film is Mickey Rourke's precursor to his extremely-coveted film The Wrestler. Bound by the ring, both Johnny Walker and Randy Robinson are past their prime and down-on-their-luck guys who hit the bottle and pine over someone that seems unreachable. They are also prescribed death by their doctors and warned not to fight again. Scribed by Mickey Rourke under the pseudonym Sir Eddie Cook, Homeboy predates The Wrestler by 20 years but the emotional depth in Homeboy I find to be much more resounding and heartfelt. In short, Homeboy is an underrated classic of character portraits.

The prior incarnation of Randy Robinson is a cowboy who moonlights as a boxer who picked up the sport a bit past his prime. This burdening shadow will never let him live down the idea that he could have been great. Besides being an ever-vigilante fighter, he's also somewhat of a hot head. In one of my favorite scenes where a trio of Afro-American "slumdogs" approach Johnny Walker spouting some dialect that seems to be Public Enemy lyrics, Johnny looks up under the brim of his hat, hesitates, and spits phlegm and chewing tobacco on one's fresh white sneakers. This southerner vs. Urbanite mental match is one of Homeboy's finer moments. Not limited to this, Homeboy is also home to some incredibly filmed scenes of outlooks on race relations. In a checkers match with a boxing trainer, a senile boxing hand repeatedly asks the white man what color he is. He then explains how he is red so he is black, by process of elimination. The words "you're black" are presented in such an omnipotent manner that it cracks the screen while setting fire to the topic of race. Soon after, the black man forgets his color again and prompts for another racial lecture.

Mickey Rourke's performance in Homeboy is utterly astounding and threatening. At first, this almost mute character will chime in his two-cents with a high-pitched southern drawl that will most likely catch you off guard but fear not, the voice is but an accurate projection of his inner woes. After seeing and hearing his thoughts and stature, Johnny Walker is an enigma worth understanding. He almost seems like a previous experiment in developing the future role of Harley Davidson in Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man. Aiding the tenor of Homeboy is a joint score composition by masters Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton. Sporadic twangs of strings safely echo in moments of heated aggression or personality immersion. The overall feel of Homeboy seems more of a big-budget auteur piece that has a heart of gold. Michael Seresin took big risks for his first and only directing experience.

For being a speech on point of character, Homeboy spotlights the most intense and riveting boxing sequences ever put to film. I found myself shadowboxing outside of the television screen, beckoning one-two punch combos and the likes of a right hook. The ferocity of what happens in the ring is captured perfectly thanks to the cinematography experience picked up by Michael Seresin. Note that this man is the one and only who captured the feel of Alfonso Cuarón's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Behind the events of Johnny Walker's two-note existence is the sleazy promoter played by a "beautiful" Christopher Walken. He learns early enough of Walker's fractured temple but neglects to inform the dead man walking. Instead, he'd rather Walker help him steal a batch of diamonds from Jews. The same motif of ticking time bomb that plagued Johnny Walker was applied to The Wrestler's Randy Robinson.

"Mickey Rourke and I were in Heavens Gate together; he had this tiny part and I was playing whatsisname. We were sitting up there in the mountains talking about...dinosaurs. And I told him about this thing I had read in some science magazine, that there's a theory that dinosaurs really never disappeared at all. That in fact all they did was get smaller and smaller, their scales turned into feathers and they flew away-and that in fact dinosaurs are still with us, they're just birds. And Mickey said, ‘That's interesting,’ and he started telling me about this movie that he was going to do someday about a boxer and it was called Homeboy. You know, I remember also he told me at the time, ‘There's this guy, the fighters manager, and your gonna play this part.’ I said, ‘Okay Mickey, lets go.’ So almost ten years went by and there we were making it. And I said to him, ‘Why don’t I tell that story about the birds and dinosaurs?’ He said, ‘Right.’ And there is that scene at the beach with all the seagulls, talking about dinosaurs. It's completely disconnected from anything going on in the movie, but I think it's one of the things in the movie...It's real. Here are these two guys who are really kind of victims, talking about the origin and destiny of dinosaurs." -- Christopher Walken, Film Comment, August 1992.

When juxtaposed together, I believe I enjoyed Homeboy more regarding both filmic qualities and scene construction. The Wrestler boasts more bang for your buck on account of the newer facade of a sport but behind boxing there's something furious that lurks past the shell. Both films preach melancholy attitudes towards gutter life, both country and city-wise, but Homeboy has more beauty than brawn. Homeboy is the greatest artistic exercise in boxing created by man for man. It's just a damn shame this film didn't receive buzz like The Wrestler has been lamented with. It dawned on me finally that maybe, just maybe, Homeboy was created just a bit too early. The populace simply wasn't ready for such a marvel.


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