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— W.C.U.N — Pittsburgh!!

JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989) Dir. Walter Hill. Written by Ken Friedman based on a Novel by John Godey. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Lance Henrickson, Ellen Barkin, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Elizabeth McGovern, and Peter Jason.

Revenge has a new face. 

Johnny Handsome is the kind of lean, mean and well-wrought Crime Drama that Hollywood doesn't make anymore mostly because they don't let Walter Hill direct movies much these days. There are no overreaching themes of redemption or philosophical meditations on the nature of the criminal, no action scenes ratcheted up to eleven and no happy endings. It's all character and well-oiled plot beats. Mickey Rourke plays the titular character and his moniker is a bad joke like calling a fat man skinny. That's okay though because he's ace at planning heists and as the film opens that's just what he's doing for his pal and surrogate father figure Mikey played by the always reliable Scott Wilson. Only problem is Mikey's brought in two renegades; Rafe and Sunny played by Lance Henriksen and Ellen Barkin in what is perhaps my favorite deadly duo on film. Henriksen is an amyl-nitrate fueled sleazebag a generation removed from his role in Near Dark and Barkin is at her absolute best as the hooker with a heart of bile ready to double cross anyone if it means more for her. As these things do, the heist of a Collectible Coin shop goes south and Johnny Handsome ends up going down for the job. Now, as if the cast wasn't already top-loaded with talent we get prime Forest Whitaker and Morgan Freeman still a few years out from becoming a national treasure.  As Lt. A.Z Drones, Freeman is relentless in his hounding of Johnny. Even when Whitaker's Dr. Fisher restructures Johnny's face as a part of a ridiculous rehabilitation program, Drones knows Johnny is still nothing more than a criminal and when Johnny gets released on early parole with a new face and job at a shipping yard, Drones seems to be the only that truly knows nothing is going to stop Johnny from going after Rafe and Sunny for their betrayal. What follows is a straight down the line revenge film with little in the way of surprises, but it doesn't need any. It's pure, crystalline in what it is. It's films like this that the post-modernism of the nineties and the fallout of Tarantino's reign destroyed with the need to reinvent them or cleverly comment on their tropes when in fact they are fine they were they are; simple, short and mean. 

 

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