Johnny Handsome (Blu-ray)
John Sedley has a face only a mother could love—until a robbery gone wrong changes everything. In 1989, a film helmed by Walter Hill called JOHNNY HANDSOME was released in theaters. I was only 5 when it came out, but I get the sense that it might have slipped through the cracks. Other films that came out that year like BATMAN, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE probably overshadowed it. Actually 1989 was a good year for memorable films. While JOHNNY HANDSOME has become somewhat of a cult classic, I think it may still be left off the radar.
John Sedley (Mickey Rourke) is a crafty criminal left with a rare facial deformity since birth. His deformities lend to the cruel nickname given to him, Johnny Handsome. However, Sedley is quite good at setting up possible jobs, and does these jobs with his mentor/father figure. Convinced he can pull off one last job, Sedley, his mentor, and his two partners—Rafe (Lance Henriksen) and Sunny (Ellen Barkin) knock off a coin collectible store in the French Quarter. In a twist unforeseen by Sedley, Rafe and Sunny double cross them. Sedley is left alone at the crime scene and his mentor is dead.
After being arrested, Dr. Steven Fisher (Forest Whitaker) thinks that Johnny is only a criminal due to his rough upbringing. The doctor there in turn decides to attempt to rehabilitate him and fix his facial deformities. Soon, Johnny is paroled and given a new identity along with his new, truly handsome face. He is given the chance to go back into the world and try to start another life for himself. The real question is, will Johnny lead a normal life or go back for revenge? Lt. A.Z. Drones (Morgan Freeman) knows Johnny all too well, and is convinced that someone like him can never be rehabilitated back into normal society. Once a criminal, always a criminal.
Upon first receiving this film, I realized the reason it was most likely getting a Blu-ray release. A red shiny sticker indicated that a “legend from the upcoming film, THE EXPENDABLES” was in this movie. Perhaps they were hoping that hardcore Rourke fans, or maybe the new ones, would want to check this out due to the massive buzz of THE EXPENDABLES. I’m not sure that plan will work with the power of the sticker alone, but I hope that the film is given another chance with possible audiences.
While I can’t hold it to the title of “cinematic masterpiece”, I can say that it is something of a surprise. A great performance by a younger Rourke, explains why he is receiving a comeback in the recent years. Johnny Handsome could have been a role that anyone could have easily tried to play with the deformities overpowering the actor–this isn’t the case with Rourke. He brings a subtle charm and warmth to Johnny, but at the same time gives enough distance to explain why he feels no malice. In turn, the spotlight stays on him throughout the film even with co-stars like Freeman and Barkin daring to take it away.
Rourke’s co-stars are memorable in some aspects. Barkin nails the trashy, wrong side of the tracks partner to Henriksen’s Rafe. She’s always just the right amount of over the top. Henriksen plays a good sleezeball alcoholic, drug addict. At times I did get him confused with the guitar player for Def Leppard, but that’s only because they’re both so hardcore. When it comes to Morgan, he always calls attention when he’s on-screen. Sadly, some of his lines were a little ridiculous and his performance felt a tad forced. Whitaker only stay through till about half of the film, but manages to convince us with hardly any effort that Johnny will fly straight one day. My least favorite character in the film was Johnny’s mousy accountant lady friend played by Elizabeth McGovern. I think the thing that drove me nuts about her was that terrible Cajun accent.
As I’ve already said at least three times during this review, I really hope that people get a chance to see this film. It’s something that I will wind up watching more than once, basically because of Rourke’s stellar performance. Johnny Handsome gives the action when it’s necessary, but also leaves you with a little heart as well.
Video: A lot of things are off about the video transfer in this one. The colors are dull and there are noticeable blurry spots. When nighttime hits in the film, there’s no light contrast so you are often bogged down in the dark. (1.85:1 Widescreen).
Audio: I thought the audio was fairly decent quality. There was never really a struggle to hear anything. I only found myself having to adjust the sound a couple of times. (2.0 DTS-HD).
Wordsmith (12:39) A nice featurette with screenwriter Ken Friedman talking about how the project got together and started from a “dusty old novel” by John Godey.
Eye of the Beholder (10:15): Michael Westmore, special effects make-up designer, talks about the unique task of providing a disfigured face for Mickey Rourke. They talk about trying to create a realism, instead of turning it into something out of a horror film.
Action Man (11:12): Stunt coordinator, Allan Graf talks about getting the job on the film, his interactions with director Walter Hill as well as the actors, and the difficulty of performing stunts in the French Quarter of New Orleans.