MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Psychological Horror/ Stars: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Brownie McGhee, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Whitcraft, Charles Gordone, Dann Florek/ Runtime: 113 minutes
Well out of all the movies I have had the pleasure of reviewing I definitely think it is safe to say that this one is definitely not for everyone. Indeed I think it is safe to say that because, out of all the genres of film, I have definitely found that when a director sets out to make a truly nerve wrenching and quite potent psychological horror/thriller film that they are really setting the bar of success extremely high up for them to even have a chance at reaching let alone vaulting over and succeed at making something that will win over the intended audience. However when you take this genre as your base and then you decide to also make it in equal measure a film noir private eye film and then also add to this already unique mixture a smattering of spiritual and religious elements along with a touch of romance and a pinch of jazz then you would be setting a table for most filmmakers that would be a near impossible task to make work. I say most because Alan Parker clearly is not one of those filmmakers. Rather he is the one who took all of these ingredients, some truly fantastic work from a game cast and crew and turned it into this movie. Indeed although like I said this movie is not for everyone trust me when I say that Angel Heart is still at the end of the day a truly great and unnerving trip through a nightmare that you will never ever forget.
The plot is as follows: Angel Heart takes us back in time to a post-World War 2 New York in the middle of the 50’s and introduces us to a man by the name of Harold “Harry” Angel. Mr. Angel, we quickly ascertain, is a low class private eye who, with few exceptions, has managed to possess what many in the industry would undoubtedly consider to be quite the low profile career during his time as a Private Investigator. That all soon begins to change however when, while inside his office one day, Angel gets an unusual call from a new potential client’s highly regarded lawyer who, for the location of the interview to determine if he is the right man for the job, asks Angel to meet him and the client in, of all places, a church in Harlem. Upon arrival we and Angel are quickly introduced to a mystery man who identifies himself as one Louis Cyphre, and who also offers Harry a well-paying case. The case in question involves locating a war veteran and jazz singer of some renown named Johnny Favorite who went missing after returning from the war and who our mysterious individual has desperately been trying to find for……reasons. Seeing as how this is a good paying job, Angel decides to take the case. Of course as this seemingly simple case takes Angel from the rough and tumble of New York all the way to to the steamy bayous of New Orleans, and he gets closer and closer to the truth it isn’t long before Angel also realizes something else. That not only is this situation more dangerous than previously thought, but also that he may have just placed himself dead center in the middle of something way more sinister and horrific than he ever could have initially suspected……
Now due to the expert work on display in this movie by film writer and director Alan Parker, I feel it must be said that right from the word go it feels like every single frame of this film really seems to possess an inherent grunge-factor as the film goes on starts to become more and more twisted and menacing. Indeed even though the film’s scenes are beautifully set, they nevertheless still manage to contain such a well-designed darkness about it that in many respects the darkness, as it continues to consume the principals in this riveting story, really becomes in and out of itself a character in the proceedings that an audience watching this movie will be a witness to. Speaking of the audience I also think Parker does a truly masterful and engaging job here of captivating the audience through what can best be described as a meticulous atmosphere that is completely cluttered with mysterious allegories, a gut and nerve wrecking feeling of paranoia and a sense of time and place that is absolutely unmatched. Subsequently though I definitely am of the opinion that this unmatched sense of place is a brilliant result not only of some truly stark imagery, but also through some sombre lighting which subsequently is then played out for our viewing “pleasure” through an combination of key elements from both the film noir yet also, and quite intriguingly, the 50s and 60s French New Wave genres of cinema with such examples from the latter including the use of elevators, ceiling fans, staircases etc. Indeed make no mistake: this film may be a combination of the film noir and psychological horror genres of film, but it is also clear that this filmmaker was inspired by other styles as well, and it is a true treat to see him put some of those touches to effective use throughout this film’s runtime.
It should also be said that the technical aspects behind the making of Angel Heart also do their part in making sure that they don’t disappoint viewers either. This of course starts with the taut and engaging musical score and I feel like this is one score which does an outstanding job of running the gauntlet of both emotions and feelings. Indeed by showcasing a sense of menace, longing, haunting regret, and also a sense of jubilance while overlapping it with overtones of both jazzy yet also erotic this is one unique yet effective blend which really helps to make for one top notch score that really aids and enhances this film beyond words. Also worthy of praise is the wonderful work done by this film’s editing team because the editing on display does a phenomenal job of not only being presented in a terrific manner, but also because every scene we as audiences are presented with definitely manages to provide us with yet another piece of this twisty puzzle so that by the end you definitely should have all the pieces lined up exactly where they should be and you are left with a complete picture. Finally hats off to the costume and set design departments for actually managing to do a wonderful job of making us as audience members feel from the cars being driven to the clothes being worn like we are actually back in the 1950’s and not just watching something that says it’s the 50’s and then you see a Starbucks as they go driving past. Indeed I know it’s not easy to recreate a period of time especially when that time is 32 years past at the time of filming, but this film does a wonderful job at managing to truly recreate this bygone era and then showcasing it to the audience in a way that is both fantastic and a loving tribute at the same time.
Now the acting in this trip down one of the most horrific rabbit holes ever put to celluloid is absolutely electrifying and completely engaging. This of course starts with lead Mickey Rourke who gives easily what is one of the best performances of his career in this. Indeed I know nowadays Rourke looks more like Frankenstein’s monster mixed with a healthy amount of Botox, but at the time this movie was made he was perfect for this role. Indeed by mixing persistence, a cynical sense of humor, and a continually sense of being perplexed mixed with an ever-growing gnawing feeling of terror as the walls begin closing in, Rourke actually delivers a performance that is both wonderfully human and heartbreaking especially when all is finally revealed at film’s end. Also worthy of note is Robert DeNiro who, despite having maybe only 30 minutes of screen time, really makes the most of what is a genuine co-starring role by mixing subtlety, charm, a sly sense of humor, but also a seemingly omniscient sense of something….sinister to create a character that is both engaging and almost deadly in a sense whenever he is on screen. Now a lot of has been said of Lisa Bonet and her turn in this. Suffice it to say that I feel that even though I understand where these people coming from, I still think Miss Bonet does a wonderful job in this by combining both a youthfulness as well as an adult sense of cynicism to make a character that’s importance to the story really doesn’t sink home fully until the very end, but when it does it is a doozy. It should also be said that the rest of the supporting cast from Charlotte Rampling all the way to an early appearance from Dann Florek (Law and Order SVU’s Capt. Cragen) all do a wonderful job not only in their respective roles, but in really helping to flesh out this nightmarish world that the audience, alongside Rourke, quickly finds themselves an unwilling part of.
All in all I feel that Angel Heart is a truly one of a kind horror film. I say this because even though in some ways it is significantly much smarter than the average horror film it also at the same time still recognizes that it needs to maintain a healthy handful of blood, guts, and thrills in order to keep the “usual crowd” satisfied as well. Suffice it to say then it manages to deliver on both counts in equal measure. I guess now would also be the perfect time to let you know 2 other things: 1) you will most likely need to see this movie multiple times in order to fully get all the pieces to the puzzle. 2) do not expect to leave this film in a positive or happy frame of mind. This film is none of those things; instead this is a cinematic outing which is dark, grotesque, and downright evil. That being said though, I feel that to this film’s credit it definitely does not try to sugarcoat audiences from the very terror it is trying to instill in their minds and in their hearts so hats off to the movie in that regard. I guess the best way to end this review then is to leave you with one last thought: “Alas…how terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise?” Oh how terrible indeed…..On a scale of 1-5 I give Angel Heart a solid 4 out of 5.