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  • 18
  • Horror, Mystery
  • 1987
  • 113 mins

Angel Heart

Angel Heart

Synopsis

A private detective is hired to hunt down a jazz musician with ties to the occult. Horror thriller starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, and written and directed by Alan Parker

Critic's Review

In a sense, William Hjortsberg's 'Falling Angel' remains one of the great unfilmed novels, this in spite of the fact that Alan Parker did a pretty good job here of transforming the horror noir into a motion picture. The problem is that, in turning 'Falling Angel' into Angel Heart, the British writer-director decided to ditch the New York locations of the book in favour of the seedy, occult-inflected environs of New Orleans. Given its strong connections with the worlds of witchcraft and voodoo, it's easy to appreciate the allure of Louisiana. However, by the mid-to-late 1980s, New Orleans' necromancy connections were already something of a cliche, Paul Schrader having set his remake of Cat People in the delta city. Imagine how much more exciting this rather fine film might have been had its cult ceremonies taken place not in the bayou but in Manhattan's abandoned subway stations and the remotest corners of Central Park.

Although New York rather than New Orleans would have added to the atmosphere and originality of Parker's picture, Angel Heart is still a cut above your average 1980s horror movie. Mickey Rourke - then at the very height of his hotness - plays private eye Harry Angel. Hired by the mysterious Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down missing trumpet player Johnny Favorite, haggard Harry embarks on a quest that will introduce him to the shadiest of characters and the most curious of locations. As his search for Favorite intensifies, Harry feels it can't be long before he uncovers the truth. Indeed, if only the people he interrogates would stop dying, he might be able to close the book on this mystery once and for all.

If Angel Heart's famous for anything it's for including a blood-soaked sex scene that landed the film in trouble with the censors. Twenty years on, the corpuscle-encrusted sequence still shocks, although the cause of consternation is more likely to be the dire performance of Lisa Bonet (playing voodoo priestess and Angel squeeze Epiphany Proudfoot) rather than the cascades of claret. Speaking of dodgy performances, Robert De Niro is also off-form as the hokey Cyphre. With his long nails, ponytail and hard-boiled eggs, this is a bad guy that needs to be played with restraint in order to raise tension. Alas, De Niro delivers a turn that feels more like an audition for the role of Abanazar.

With everything around him somewhat larger than life, it's up to Mickey Rourke to ground Hjortsberg's compelling tale in something approaching reality. Throughout Angel Heart, Rourke seldom resorts to shouting and histrionics to hold our attention - he's the sort of man who can make smoking a cigarette a spectator sport. And when the time comes to lose control, he's got such great restraint he never veers towards the "Whoo-ah! territory that Al Pacino has made his home.

On the subject of smoking, check out the scene early on in the film where Rourke polishes off a pack of Camels in a dingy New York diner. A sometime director of TV commercials, Alan Parker has a good idea of how to sell an image. But even on his best day - and he had plenty of those when he made this atmosphere drenched thriller - Parker could have taken classes in cool from celebrity smokesperson Mickey Rourke.

In a nutshell: The book's so good it deserves a better movie, but Rourke's performance is such that Angel Heart stands out from the necromancy movie crowd.

By Richard Luck

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Brownie McGhee, Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, Stocker Fontelieu, Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling
  • Director: Alan Parker
  • Writer: Alan Parker
  • Producer: Elliott Kastner, Allan Marshall
  • Photographer: Michael Seresin

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