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Crime Scene Review: Angel Heart (1987)

February 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm by  

Greetings, readers. It always amazes me the films that are left on the dustbin of history; films that should (and, given a viewer in the right mindset, do) blow minds and soil pants. Some are brilliantly written, others ground-breaking in some way or another, but ultimately they prove a flash in the cinematic pan, or are duds upon release and only find their following years later.

Today, I’ll be looking at one such film – 1987’s ANGEL HEART. Directed by Alan Parker and starring Mickey Rourke (when he was still a pretty-boy), Robert De Niro, and Lisa Bonet, a sinister combination of hardboiled film noir detective story and supernatural horror based on the 1978 novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg.

Rourke stars as Harry Angel, an average schlub Private Detective in New York City, 1955. He’s not particularly lucky or great at what he does, he just manages to scrape by like the rest of us. Into Angel’s life waltzes the austere, cynical, business-minded Mr. Louise Cyphere (De Niro), who is seeking a missing man; big band crooner Johnny Favorite, who disappeared during WWII.

Not particularly caring for Favorite personally, Cyphere’s interests are purely business – if Favorite is dead, “certain collateral” falls into Cyphere’s possession. Angel’s job, then, is to determine if Favorite is alive or dead.

The trail of clues leads Angel to New Orleans, but every witness he talks to, every lead he follows up on, ends up horribly murdered. It seems Favorite doesn’t want to be found…

I chose this film for my inaugural review here at the Dreamin’ Demon because I was asked to write as spoiler-free as possible, and if there was ever a film that deserves to be seen without spoilers, ANGEL HEART is it. A deftly-handled and thoughtfully written story, ANGEL HEART is detective fiction in the vein of Hammett or Chandler, and indeed, save for the supernatural element, feels as if it could have flowed from their typewriters, while the violence of the murder sequences could have been the work of Spillane. That’s a hell of a hardboiled pedigree.

As with any quality detective tale, the audience is given all the same clues as the protagonist, and invited to follow along and conduct their own investigation; nevertheless, ANGEL HEART is appropriately rife with enough twists and turns to keep even the veteran armchair detective guessing.

While savage violence and simmering, exotic sensuality (embodied in Lisa Bonet’s voodooist) can only take a film so far; the rest is upon the shoulders of the actors.

ANGEL HEART really hinges upon the interplay between Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro, which works out wonderfully. I’ve always considered De Niro to be one of the finest actors to ever live (though some of his recent performances, including MACHETE and LITTLE FOCKERS, have begun to suggest that it may be time to retire), and the performance he gives here is elegant, understated, and carrying a quiet, sinister charm without losing gravitas – and should be ranked alongside his performances in RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, and THE UNTOUCHABLES. The man gives eating a hardboiled egg an air of menace, for God’s sake.

Mickey Rourke, meanwhile, is instantly likeable, a light-hearted, somewhat-bumbling American Everyman. The audience identifies with Harry Angel early on in the film, which gives that much more power and shock to Harry’s character arc over the course of the film. Suffice to say, Greek Tragedy ain’t got nothin’ on Harry Angel.

All in all, ANGEL HEART is a damned rare treat of a film; intelligent, and never talking down to its audience, without sacrificing sex and violence in favor of said intelligence. A very strong cast does wonders with the material given to them, and there’s an overall constant wink and tip of the hat to the conventions of the noir genre, utilizing them while also keeping things fresh and new. I’d call it a must-see, and give it five hardboiled eggs out of a possible five.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Comments


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  • Anonymous

    So glad to see this amazing yet overlooked film getting its due on DD. Definitely one that sticks with you. Mickey Rourke is criminally underrated as an actor. Angel Heart also has an insanely creepy cameo from the excellent Charlotte Rampling.

  • Lizard

    Yo, “saucerman.” WTF does your name mean? And I give you the big middle-finger-welcome to D’D, asshole. You and Filth should raise big hell over jerk-off Morbid not giving you a bigger welcome. I holla a big “BOO!” on some of your punctuation choices but do happy cartwheels over your choice of putting commas before the word “which” when commas actually should be employed.

    I may wind up being your biggest fan. But fuck off anyway.

  • Anonymous

    hey, good write-up.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Well since i hate scary movies, I’m wiki-ing this one for the spoiler. Albeit your write up (excellent, your English teacher should be proud of how you write) made me WANT to watch it, so I’ll check it out if I like it.

  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

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  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

    Saucerfan! I didn’t realize you were on here too…yay! Love that I see some of my friends popping up on my fave site as contributors lately.

  • Anonymous

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  • Filth

    I’ve not seen this in years. Maybe time for me to track down a copy

  • http://www.dreamindemon.com Morbid

    I have not watched it in ages. In fact, I think the last time I ever watched it was when it hit HBO for the first time. I don’t remember much, aside from some of the highlights mentioned in the review, I just remember watching it so I could see some nekkid Bonet. I’m putting it on my list of films to re-watch.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4VLVJVQMCKNJ3IS7LQHQ4NHEOI SEL

    this is 1 of my all time fave movies i love it!!!!

  • Parrot Toes

    I have been trying to watch this one since last night. I’m about 30 minutes in. I’m finding it very slow so far, but I will trudge through it in the hopes that it is as good as your make it sound. It may not be the movie though, but rather the time period. I don’t care for movies of the 80’s. The film quality almost always sucks and so does the music (some horror films are an exception).

    I will finish it tonight or tomorrow though based solely on your awesome review. Be proud, be very proud.

    Welcome to DD though. :)

  • Anonymous

    I was a really good movie I just stumbled across it a few years ago It’s already part of my collection.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jacqueline-Pedrosa/100001435068914 Jacqueline Pedrosa

    Excellent movie ! Great time for Rourke  as he was in his prime and he looks normal “pre-plastic surgery” and flucking fine as hell . Great story,very decent cast and well played out.Great recommend!