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Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) is a talented writer of prolific prose; unfortunately, he's also a skid row alcoholic with a violent temper. He picks fights nightly with Eddie (Frank Stallone), the bartender at the local watering hole The Golden Horn and lives in a seedy tenement, stealing food and trying to scrape together enough money for booze. Fellow alcoholic Wanda Wilcox (Faye Dunaway) catches Henry's eye at the bar one afternoon, and although she has a reputation for being unstable, the two embark on a relationship with each other and the bottle. Their liaison is full of drama, humour and irrational behaviour and is put to the test when Henry meets Tully (Alice Krige) a rich, privileged literary editor who wants to publish his stories and save him from himself.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Mickey Rourke came back in 2009 as The Wrestler. In 1986 he arrived as Henry the drunk, in Barbet Schroeder's gazump of a movie that was selected for Official Competition at Cannes. Rourke gives an outlandish, iconic and surprisingly sweet performance as the boozy fighter-writer who has no job, no money and no prospects. But he's not a loser in the most important sense: he has plenty of self worth and he knows exactly what he is. Rourke's ambling gait and a speech cadence slightly reminiscent of W.C. Fields from the golden years of Hollywood, delivers a Henry Chinaski who can write prose well enough to attract a $500 advance for a short story from a magazine editor (Alice Krige) but he doesn't aspire to live in what he calls a golden cage of success.

Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical short story-cum-screenplay is rich fodder for filmmaker Schroeder, who squeezes all the available juice out of it in a sensitively directed film with a magnificent tone of personal triumph for Henry, framed by a sense of humour directly out of the character, and a melancholy exploration of the human condition.

Faye Dunaway was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Wanda, Henry's equal at the bottle. Teaming up and tearing apart, Wanda and Henry make a spectacularly boozy couple who live life on a roller coaster of highs and lows. But Henry, notwithstanding his enmity towards barman Eddie (Frank Stallone), is really a gentle soul; it's the irony of the character and our understanding of his mind-set that makes this one of those haunting films you can't get out of your head. I first saw it at its Cannes debut, where Micky Rourke did his best to soak up the available perks.

It's the only film from the Menahem Golan/Yoram Globus cousins (then trading as The Cannon Group and executive producers of the film) that reached the dizzying heights of the Cannes red carpet. But not without drama. Barbet Schroeder turned up at Menahem Golan's suite at the swish Majestic Hotel the day before the festival screening of Barfly with a small sports bag. He opened it and took out a mini chain saw, threatening to saw off his left little finger right there on the blue carpet unless Golan paid him the final US$50,000 he was owed. Schroeder got his money and he kept his finger - and the story, when it finally surfaced, became another Cannes legend.

That would be a great story to have as a bonus feature, perhaps colourfully told by Schroeder himself, on this excellent widescreen re-issue disc.

Published June 11, 2009

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(US, 1987)

CAST: Micky Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Frank Stallone, Alice Krige, J.C. Quinn, Jack Nance

PRODUCER: Barbet Schroeder, Tom Luddy, Fred Roos

DIRECTOR: Barbet Schroeder

SCRIPT: Charles Bukowski


EDITOR: Éva Gárdos

MUSIC: Jack Baran


RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer; photo gallery


DVD RELEASE: June 12, 2009 (widescreen re-release)

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