ANGEL HEART (1987) / Horror-Drama

Running Length: 113 minutes
MPAA Classification: R for strong violence/gore, disturbing images, language, nudity, and a graphic sex scene.

Cast: Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Brownie McGhee, Michael Higgins
Director: Alan Parker
Producers: Alan Marshall, Elliot Kastner
Screenplay: Alan Parker (based upon the novel Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg)

Alan Parker’s Angel Heart is an immensely creepy viewing experience. It’s not flat-out scary. It doesn’t go “Boo!” and laugh as you shrivel back into your seat. It will not have you clinging to the person nearest to you for dear life. But it will get under your skin. It will horrify you. And I guarantee that when it is all over, you will have nightmares.

The film transpires in the 1950s, starting off in Brooklyn then moving to Louisiana. Our hero is Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), a small-time gumshoe who smokes so many cigarettes you could make a decent drinking game out of it. Angel is contacted by an attorney named Winesap, who instructs him to meet with his client, Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro). Cyphre is quite a sight with his long, black hair and manicured fingernails. He hires Angel to locate a crooner named Johnny Favorite that disappeared before a debt was settled between the two. Though hesitant at first, Angel accepts the offer.

Now, one would expect for Angel Heart to be rather routine as most noir is, but in truth, it’s actually very complex and unorthodox in the way it goes about presenting itself. Parker uses noir as a way to get the story in motion, but once it really takes off, the story delves into much more complicated territory, taking on elements of horror, surrealism, and the occult. One moment, he’ll lead you down a path of familiarity, expecting you to assume what’s most predictable, but will take the outcome and flip it on its ear, catching you by complete surprise.

Rourke is good in this kind of role. He makes the character of Harry Angel likable and innocent, though entirely competent. Parker fashions Angel Heart in the way that we pick up on details as Angel does, inflicting a double-dose of confusion on both the audience and lead character. His film relies so heavily on mood and atmosphere in order to be bizarre and horrifying and Rourke does a great job in making his character feel what we’re feeling. The direction is exceptional, and feels strangely to Parker’s previous outing Mississippi Burning. (Both deal with the bayou country of Louisiana.) Parker knows exactly how to grab our attention, how to make us ask questions, and then how to make us cringe when we get the answers.

As expected, the ending is a little weak. Now, this is routine for these kinds of motion pictures, and I get that. For the most part, the story in Angel Heart picks up in places and never seems to lag, but the final twenty minutes or so just kind of go all over the place. The “twist” is abrupt, not very logical, and even somewhat absurd, but, if you’re like me, you won’t let an unsatisfactory ending ruin an otherwise good movie.

Final rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest

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