Henry (Mickey Rourke) enjoys spending every waking moment sitting down at his local bar and ordering drinks. The film opens with Henry making some harsh remarks to the barman Eddie (Frank Stallone), leading to a bare-knuckle fistfight in the alley outside the bar with customers cheering the fight on. It’s a fight that Henry can’t possibly win, but for the sake of entertainment and fun, he gets beaten and carries on with his evening.
Why the title Barfly you may ask? Henry never leaves the bar and lurks around like a fly, even enjoying annoying others, hence the term, Barfly. But while Henry, on the outside, seems grubby and enjoys hanging around his local bar while making poor choices, we also discover that he is a skilled poet and often mails his work to a secret publication. But Henry’s world becomes shaken when he meets Wanda (Faye Dunaway) and discovers the two have unique romantic chemistry and share common interests, such as having a good strong drink.
Barfly is best described as a drama or comedy with a minor romantic touch. According to IMDb, Barfly is based on the life of poet Charles Bukowski who became quite successful and is also responsible for writing the film. The entire film feels unique and different. It’s dialogue-heavy and follows an unlikely hero, who, for some viewers, isn’t enjoyable.
The visuals are great, and the various locations, including the main bar and Henry’s apartment in the city, add a touching atmosphere. The audio score is pleasing, including the main catchy jazz theme, which can be heard at the start of the film and is a great compliment to the story. It’s impossible to review this film without speaking about the performance of the lead, Henry, played by Mickey Rourke. As an actor, this kind of character is quite different to anything he has done in his past career. Henry is an awful character who consistently speaks and acts harshly to those around him and enjoys starting fistfights he knows he won’t win. He is careless and rude, yet somehow, I found him fun to watch. Personally, I was highly impressed by how different the actor looks and sounds here, even down to his mannerisms. Actress Faye Dunaway is great as the strong, mysterious Wanda.
Overall, I can understand how this film wouldn’t sit well with everyone. The lead is a careless man who enjoys being sloppy and trashy in all areas. Yet somehow, I found him kind of fun to watch, mostly because it’s so different from anything else Mickey Rourke has done in his career. Pacing, for the most part, is a delight. Still, I can’t deny the third act is weak and even introduces a love triangle that was a bit too much. The conclusion is fun and wacky enough as if the whole story has only moved forwards in a tiny direction and perhaps that’s the whole point.