1987 - R - 112 Mins.
|Director: Alan Parker|
|Producer: Elliot Kastner and Alan Marshall|
|Written By: Alan Parker|
|Starring: Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Brownie McGhee and Robert De Niro |
|Review by: John Ulmer
"Angel Heart" is a winding psychological thriller that -- in 1987 -- was far ahead of its time. Audiences didn’t “get it” and the film bombed at the box office. Only now are we beginning to see endings like this surface in horror movies. Had 'Angel Heart' been made a decade or so later, perhaps it would have succeeded theatrically.
Al's gonna be doing this ten years from now
As it is, the movie – which now has a strong cult following and was recently re-released on a Special Edition DVD – is nothing short of mesmerizing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it great, or a “masterpiece,” but it is scary, disturbing, influential, thought-provoking, and a lot smarter and more atmospheric than 99% of the rip-off horror movies being made today.
It stars Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel, a private eye from Brooklyn in the 1950s who is hired by Louis Cyphere (Robert De Niro) to locate a mysterious singer named Johnny Favorite, who disappeared in the early ‘40s and hasn’t been seen since.
Angel’s journey takes him from the streets of New York to jazz clubs in Harlem and, finally, to the sweltering swamps of Louisiana. He meets a variety of characters, all of who have little to say about Favorite. All we seem to know is that he was a singer, had his face reconstructed after an injury during WWII, was taken out of hospital care, and apparently vanished from the face of the earth.
To be truthful I guessed the twist of the movie about seven minutes in, as soon as Robert De Niro appeared on screen during an extended cameo. But that’s not to say that the movie won’t affect you. Notorious when released for containing some controversial material (including a sex scene between Rourke and "The Cosby Show’s" Lisa Bonet), the movie’s moody atmosphere is its strongest element. Some segments – particularly a Voodoo ritual dance (“I’ve got a thing about chickens”) – are scary on a totally unusual level. If it had to be compared to other films, you could take "Candyman" and then add "The Devil’s Advocate" – you’ve got 'Angel Heart.'
On top of all this, the acting, too, is very strong. This is Rourke’s finest performance, as Harry Angel, a scumbag detective with nothing to lose. On the new DVD, Rourke claims he wasn’t very interested in acting at the time, and as a result “just showed up” and “memorized the lines.” I find that hard to believe – Rourke’s acting here is Oscar-worthy. His recent descent into self-loathing has caused his career to fall apart (he was never enthusiastic about acting and wanted to become a boxer instead); he shouldn’t discredit his earlier work merely because he’s upset with his life. Even if he doesn’t want it, he deserves a hefty amount of credit for creating a wholly believable “hero.” Watch the scene where he learns something shocking about himself, watch his face, watch his eyes -- it's extremely absorbing acting, and not the result of just "memorizing lines."
The role of Louis Cyphere (get it?) is also one of De Niro’s most ambitious performances; he delves entirely into character, as usual. He acts a bit flamboyant, but for good reason – after all, he is…oh, never mind, revealing that would ruin the movie. Or, maybe.
Angel Heart was directed by (Sir) Alan Parker, the famous British filmmaker (of, among others, "Midnight Express"). Some say this is his finest film – wonderfully crafted, beautifully shot, masterfully edited – and I’d have to say that if it isn’t his best, it certainly ranks somewhere at the top. It’s a unique film experience that takes no prisoners and isn’t afraid to go for the throat, leaving the defenseless viewer surprised, shocked, disturbed, or downright freaked out. Highly recommended, if you can stomach it.