Angel Heart,
directed by Alan Parker
(TriStar, 1987)

I remember being surprised by the ending of Angel Heart when I first saw it on the big screen in 1987.

When I watched it again on DVD this year, I couldn't believe I didn't see it coming. Ah, hindsight.

Angel Heart is a complicated film, considered by many to be a ground-breaking accomplishment by director Alan Parker. On its surface, it's a noirish detective flick set in 1955, with gritty private dick Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke, looking -- like he does in most of his movies -- like he needs a shower) working a simple missing-persons case.

But it's not so simple. Louis Cyphre (played with oily charm by Robert De Niro) hires Angel to track down a crooner, Johnny Favorite, who vanished in 1943 with a certain account left unsettled. But the trail is more than cold, it's also rapidly filling up with bodies, as most everyone Angel questions winds up messily dead. Soon, his investigation takes him from New York City to the Louisiana bayou, where there is violence with dogs and gumbo, weirdness with chickens and former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet in her breakout role.

De Niro and Bonet are both excellent in their parts, as are the parade of supporting characters who pass briefly across the screen. But the highest praise goes to Rourke, who carries tough-guy Angel through an incredible journey of anguish and self-discovery, and Parker, who has presented a tightly woven plot in a highly stylized package that progresses gradually from mystery to supernatural thriller to outright horror. Angel Heart deserves a second look, even if you already know how it ends, if only to admire the complexity of the story (based on William Hjortsberg's novel Falling Angel) and the craft with which the film was constructed. Some of the more stunning scenes are also the most gory, so be prepared for plenty of blood and ritual magic (and one aging Satanist) in your gumbo.

review by
Tom Knapp

28 May 2011

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