Barfly (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Barfly (1987) Directed by Barbet Schroeder. With Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway and Alice Krige.

5 

The semi-autobiographical tale of poet and author, Charles Bukowski, Barfly is a pidgeon-hole view into a time of alcoholism, set around various dive bars of downtrodden Los Angeles in the 1980’s.

It stars Mickey Rourke as Henry, a vodka-swilling poet, living in squalor with the company of classical music and his next-door-neighbour’s incessant arguments. Henry likes a drink or two-thousand, and can be found propping up a plethora of scuzz-holes-  frequently with a bloodied face; a result of one of his many punch-ups in the back alleys of loserville, L.A.

It’s on one of his many trips to the bar, that he happens across a strange fish called ‘Wanda’ (Dunaway). Rourke asks – “How come nobody sits next to her? – “She’s crazy!”, replies the barman. Undeterred, Rourke engages her anyway, which begins a fascinating booze-drenched romance, of sorts.

Between images of dilapidated apartments and foul-mouthed old prostitutes, everything in Barfly is bleak, rundown and unhealthy. It’s a place of no hopes or aspirations – just the next drink. It’s a piercing view into the mentality of an alcoholic; there isn’t even a basic need to survive, only the desire to pour and hope for the end.

It’s well directed by Barbet Schroeder, and there are subtleties dotted around the script that suggest all might not be quite what it seems. Sadly, not everything hits the spot, as a final act plot development involving Alice Krige, fails to entirely convince.

Home to two fine performances, Barfly is a snapshot view of pissed-away-potential. The curious pairing of Rourke and Dunaway is all the more resonant for its unlikelihood, with both actors bringing to life two heartbroken people, adrift but oddly at home in a self-perpetuating cycle of addiction and self-destruction. 3.5/5

About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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8 Responses to Barfly (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. filmfunkel says:

    “…only the desire to pour and hope for the end.” Man, that’s a chilling description.

  2. Marta says:

    Nice Gareth! I think you caught very well the essence of this film.

  3. robbinsrealm says:

    Rourke has demonstrated to me time and time again, what a fantastic actor he can be, this film is just one example. I think it is a real shame that his career got derailed for a variety of poor personal choices. I was hoping after his brilliant performance in “The Wrestler” that he would start getting bigger and better roles, but for the most part that hasn’t happened.

    Excellent review.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you very much, that’s kind of you. I’m completely agree, in a sense, Rourke’s own failure to fully meet his potential is mirrored by this performance. I’m with you in what you say about his acting ability. He’s one on his own; a towering talent of such raw natural ability. I adored The Wrestler. This film has put me in the mood for a ‘Rourke-athon’ 🙂

  4. I’m a literature person and find Charles Bukowski interesting. I’m intrigued by your description of this film!

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you, it’s an intriguing film. It strikes me that Mickey Rourke is the perfect person to play a talented, yet deeply troubled human being. It’s art and life in symbiosis.

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