This is an intriguing, unusual, beautifully directed, highly atmospheric film that successfully crosses any number of genre: film noir, thriller, mystery, and horror. The plot is simple. In the mid nineteen fifties, a mysterious and slightly sinister business man, Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro), hires Brooklyn gumshoe, Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), for a missing person case. Angel's investigation, for which he is being paid a princely sum for the time, takes him from Harlem to New Orleans, as he looks for a former crooner named Johnny Favorite, who sometime during the early nineteen forties apparently welched on a business deal with Louis Cypher and hasn't been heard from since.
What happens when Angel gets to New Orleans will be infused with voodoo rites, ritual murders and taboo sex. The Big Easy is hardly that for our erstwhile detective, as he becomes susceptible to a series of initially puzzling flashbacks. Moreover, it seems that everyone with whom he meets, who had a connection to our missing crooner, ends up being savagely murdered. When he meets with a tarot card reader (Charlotte Rampling), it is just the beginning of the end for our increasingly disheveled gumshoe. His introduction to the gorgeous Epiphany (Lisa Bonet), a seventeen year old voodoo queen, later leads to a coupling that is played with singularly wild abandon. Both of these women have a connection to our mysterious missing person, Johnny Favorite, who, it turns out, may have given the Devil a run for his money in the evil department.
Robert De Niro is sensational in the highly stylized, role of Louis Cypher. He imbues the role with just the right amount of sardonic humor and restrained menace so as to make the character memorable. De Niro leaves an indelible imprint on every scene in which he is in. Mickey Rourke, who is in nearly every scene in this film, shows that he has the ability to carry a movie, as he is simply terrific as the private detective who is slowly unraveling. As the film progresses, the toll that the investigation is taking on the tormented Angel is evident on his face. Angst ridden, bleary eyed, and disheveled, Angel is definitely involved in the biggest case of his life. As he gets closer to the truth of what happened to Johnny Favorite, the more his life seems to be spinning out of control. Rourke manages to convey all this, no easy task. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent and adds to the flavor of this delicious gumbo of a film, which is reminiscent of Goethe's Faust. Undoubtedly, this film is one of Alan Parker's best directorial efforts. Bravo!
on December 10, 2009
Film: 5.0/5.0; Video: 4.0/5.0; Audio: 3.5/5.0
Obviously due to Mickey Rourke's well-earned success and critical acclaim with last year's "The Wrestler", we now receive a fairly expedient release of Alan Parker's "Angel Heart" on the Blu-Ray format, released on the long-defunct Carolco pictures from 1987.
First off I must mention that I am a big fan of this title. It is not a movie which will appeal to everyone, but I really enjoy the overall visual style and the feel (of impending doom) together with the scenery and the truly awesome music and sound cues which makes this a very original piece, and not in any way reminiscent of a typical 80s film. Coupled with a compelling story based on William Hjortsberg's novel "Falling Angel" and top-notch performances throughout makes this one well worth watching over again.
Ironically, this movie was released just before Mickey Rourke intensified his self-destructive process (which coincidentally is what makes "The Wrestler" so good as well, since it parallels Mickey's own strides in life over almost the same period of time covered in that film), a time which--according to his interviews--he was in the process of losing his house (the interviewer actually repeats himself over and over asking Rourke about "why he chose to make the film"). :)
I don't know if it was this pressure which brought out his performance, but nevertheless it is something to behold--especially near the end where he goes all out and almost loses his voice.
The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Lisa Bonet and Charlotte Rampling offer memorable performances, not mentioning the scene in which Bonet almost got kicked off "The Cosby Show" for doing. ;)
As for the technical quality of this release, it is quite decent. The film does show its age in certain scenes and background detail, but it is overall quite acceptable. Not much tinkering has been done to make it artificially sharper or "smoother" using DNR, edge enchancement, et al.
The sound (which is afforded a DTS HD Master Audio track) is quite good as well. Obviously the music really benefits (Courtney Pine's saxophones sound glorious). One small negative point is that it has a little muddy bass (which the original DVD also had), and some scenes did not deliver as much punch as I would have wanted to. Other than that, it was given a quite respectable treatment overall.
Dialogue was also intelligible throughout the feature--better so than many newer 90s releases which have made it onto Blu-Ray.
All in all, I can highly recommend this title if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary. It has quite a few memorable scenes and the performances and music alone makes this a strong buy.
One of Alan Parker's best.
(On an a related note, I see to my horror that this is scheduled for a remake to be released in 2011. Why do these so-called "moviemakers" always feel the need to subject the most unique & iconic masterpieces to this abhorrent practice? Create something thoughtful & original instead. Oh wait, you're unable to as that would require some ounce of talent. My bad.)
on December 5, 2001
One of the greatest aspects about this film (to me) is that it is not quite a horror film, not quite a straight supernatural thriller and not totally a gritty detective movie either. It has elements of all three but does not stay consistently with the theme of any. The critics who called it "provocative and original" were correct because if nothing else, _Angel Heart_ is indeed those two things.
On the surface, the plot seems simple. A private investigator named Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a big band singer from the 1940s, Johnny Favorite. Angel is hesitant at first but he accepts the job because it pays well. From the beginning of the investigation, Angel learns that Favorite must have had plenty of secrets to hide. I don't want to give too much of the plot away so if you want to watch the film without knowing much about its twists and turns, don't read on. Anyhow, it seems that Favorite had powerful friends who took him out of the hospital he was staying at after the war and he disappeared. Because he had been badly injured, his face was still in bandages when he left so it was possible that Johnny didn't even look like Johnny anymore. As Angel probes deeper and deeper, dead bodies begin to pile up and Angel gets involved with Epiphany (Lisa Bonet), a voodoo priestess who could well be underhandedly included in a diabolical scheme with Favorite. In the film, Angel leaves New York for New Orleans to learn more about the occult practices Favorite was part of. This differs from the novel in which the setting stays in New York throughout. By the last twenty minutes of the film, the audience will discover the dark truth about Johnny Favorite at the same time (or maybe before if you've been paying attention) Angel does.
Mickey Rourke does an excellent job of portraying Harry Angel and Robert De Niro, though not an obvious choice for bringing to life the book's version of Louis Cyphre, is fantastic. De Niro plays Cyphre with such skill that even if you find the supernatural premise to be hokey or contrived, you will feel intimidated by his commanding prowess. As one reviewer already mentioned, the cinematography is excellent. The setting, lighting, and lack of bright, vibrant colors give the film a dark, noir feeling that it retains all the way through. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys trying to crack how movies will end, anyone who likes detective stories and anyone with an interest in the supernatural.
on April 26, 2001
is fully evident in this late 80s Alan Parker film, an overlooked classic if there ever was one. In my opinion, no one then or now could do the job portraying detective Harry Angel that Rourke did. He captures every nuance of the character perfectly, running the gamut from emotional wreckage to physical haggardness. How someone so gifted could let said gift get away from him the way Rourke did is a mystery almost as compelling as the one serving as the subject of this film.
The basic storyline is deceptively simple; Harry Angel is a down and out post WWII New York detective hired by a shadowy figure to find a missing singer, one Johnny Favorite. That search leads him from New York City to the bowels of the Louisiana bayou, and it's that setting that gives the film so much of its powerful atmosphere. Things are not as they seem, and the story becomes stranger the further along it goes...
Alan Parker did a fantastic job of using muted colors to convey the sense that this story is not taking place in our time, but rather one of a recently faded past. Visually, the film transports you to that place and moment in a way that few "period pieces" manage to accomplish. Add in his notorious attention to detail, and you have little doubt that you are seeing the deep south of Louisiana as it was in the 1950s.
The other major performances (Robert De Niro, Charlotte Rampling, Lisa Bonet, Brownie McGhee) are wonderful in their own right, but IMO, this is Rourke's show. A modern classic!
Director Alan Parker said once he wanted to work in every genre of film before he died. He might as well have retired after making "Angel Heart" because the movie exists simultaneously as film noir, a 50s pulp detective story, a horror movie, and a supernatural thriller. Mickey Rourke is outstanding as Harry Angel, a down-on-his-luck (is there any other kind?) private eye in post-WWII New York who gets hired by a sinister and enigmatic "businessman" named Louis Cyphere (Robert DeNiro, looking almost exactly like his favorite director, Martin Scorsese). Cyphere wants Angel to track down a crooner named Johnny Favorite who owes Cyphere....something. Angel goes from New York to New Orleans on his quest for the missing Johnny Favorite, and on the way becomes progressively more unwashed, unshaven, bleary-eyed, sweaty, beaten up, and desperate as his seemingly routine mission uncovers a hidden world or voodoo, murder, and identity theft. Rourke never had a better performance in his Hollywood career than his turn as the fallen Angel, though he was largely stereotyped after this film to play only scumbags or sex freaks, so maybe it wasn't worth it....we all lost a fine actor....anyway the cast is excellent all around, particularly Lisa Bonet, who should have stayed in feature films but like Rourke took more flack for her intensely explicit sweat-and-blood love scene with Rourke than she got praise for her performance as Epiphany, Angel's sex-interest. "Angel Heart" is an absolute must for fans of detective fiction, horror and most especially, film noir -- Parker does a superb job of creating not only the time period, but a brooding, stylish atmospehre. The flick took a major beating from some critics for being too ugly, too dark, too shocking, too sexual and too disturbing, but I think they miss the point. It's suppposed to be, and it is. Highly recommended.
Most of Parker's films are visually interesting. This one is viscerally mesmerizing, as well, partly because he captures the essential undulent, oily sleaziness of the Big Easy so adroitly. I lived in New Orleans for five years and can spot a fraudulent, comercially bent take when I see one (Clint Eastwood comes to mind). Mickey Rourke was one of those hit or miss actors of the 90s (I was one of those who actually liked him in "Barfly"). In this instance he is more than adequate, and he rolls along with the punchy, quirky script like the prize fighter he longed to be. Lisa Bonet, as the Nubian Lolita, is perfectly cast. No need to provide spoilers here, but the ending is one of the all time greatest, where any ambiguity that the filmmaker might have set up for us is exquisitely resolved. Certainly not one of the deepest cinema excursions ever attempted, but one of the most enjoyable, particularly for those who like a little spice and suspense in their gumbo.
on March 13, 2005
"Angel Heart" is one of my favorite movies of all times.
Have re-watched it over and over again since 1987 but am still haunted by Parker's first-class story-telling and cinemaphotography; Trevor Jones' wonderful music score and superb casting from the leading to supporting cast, showcasing a particularly diabolical de Niro teamed up with Mickey Rourke at his very best. The scene where Rourke/Angel smashed his hand into the mirror while shrieking "I know who I am, I know who I am..." in the hour of reckoning was a truly cathartic moment.
But kudos and praise must certainly go to top-notch direction/screenplay by Alan Parker. This is the very first time I am rating the movie better than the original fiction, "Falling Angel", by William Hjortsberg. Parker's very own modifications like shifting part of the movie from Harlem to New Orleans for contrast was clever and visually gratifying.
To be nitpicking, the only flaw in the movie was the use of special effects on Lucifer and Epiphany's baby to signify evil when truth was revealed at the final hour. This came across as a tad heavy-handed, especially when the supernatural / demonic influence thread was already so effectively sewn throughout the film sans special effects. Don't get me wrong though - what made this little imperfection stuck out like a sore thumb was just how good 99.99% of the movie was. As shown in the Director's Commentary (yes, they are finally adding "Bonus Materials" to the Zone 1 Director's Cut), Alan Parker equally questioned himself on the use of "green contact lens" to heighten the visual impact - he was right to have asked himself that question and should probably have stuck to his guns with the "less is more" principle.
All said, despite this little irksome flaw, the movie is as excellent as great movie-making, acting, story-telling and unstoppable visual feast can go. Check out the extraordinary original soundtrack which is a cut above others. The director is sheer genius in weaving selective dialogue into Trevor Jones' atmospheric score (excellent use of theme song, "Girl of My Dreams", in melodious refrain); and Courtney Pine's mesmerising sax solos of yester years, rendering a soundtrack that is in part haunting and in part nostaglic, but nothing less than alluring.
on June 3, 2011
This is a review of the Blu-ray disc, not the movie. Compared to the Special Edition DVD released a few years back, this Blu-ray release is disappointing. I don't notice virtually any difference in video quality, the audio quality is noticeably improved, but not a deal-maker, and some significant extra features found on the DVD are not here on the Blu-ray, specifically a 5-part documentary on the subject of voodoo. There's no excuse for this, as the DVD was a single disc release and therefore there is plenty of room on Blu-ray to hold the same stuff.
on February 19, 2010
The 1987 film "Angel Heart" should be considered, fundamentally, a mystery. Its a mystery in the sense of what the ancient Rosicrucians and other such mystical societies meant by that term: a spiritual truth made known to man by divine revelation. Harry Angel, a private investigator, is searching for Johnny Favorite. According to the Christian myth, Lucifer was God's favorite angel until he was replaced by the heavenly father's human creation (and we humans have been caught in this jealous struggle ever since). Even Johnny Favorite's original name was Liebling (German for "dearest or most precious"). Many religions and mystics speak of humans as half animal and half divine - that would make us all, in a way, "hairy angels". In the film the heart represents the center of the self, the divine aspect - and it was the heart that the infernal Johnny Favorite tore out of Harry Angel to take the innocent's place in the world and submerge his baser identity. "Angel Heart" is about the search for lost identity (the original case of identity theft, I suppose - in a metaphysical sense). Are we also, to one degree or another, private investigators of the soul, searching for our lost selves? This movie is filled with this kind of religious symbolism and Jungian archetypes. In a way it asks what came first, the chicken or the egg? Was it the creator or its creation? There's the character, Dr. Fowler (the drug addicted physician) - even his name is symbolic ("a handler of fowl") juxtaposed to the voodoo rites involving the handling and sacrifice of chickens in spiritual rituals. I see the chickens in "Angel Heart" as representative of the life force (the carrier of the egg, or "the Soul", afterall). Fowler is a man of science which, in many ways, is our modern world's new priesthood of materialism. Science's relationship with the life force has, of course, been quite self-destructive - besides the great comforts and breakthroughs in knowledge its created it has also brought about nuclear weapons and other meltdowns of the natural world. In addition, western man has become addicted to technology and increasingly under "the spell" of materialism. Beyond the layer involving the christian myth - Lucifer and the fall of humanity - the film also has the greater Jungian perspective that takes in all religious myth along with individual dreams. Carl Jung's central idea is what he calls the "process of individuation", which is what he feels leads to consciousness, to completeness (like a flower opening to sunlight). This involves confronting ones "shadow", which is basically the unconscious, negative part of ones psyche (the image in the mirror to painful to ponder). In the context of the film, the black race, as portrayed in Harlem and New Orleans, is shown as a societal projection of "the shadow" - one that white-western man has demonized as something to be kept apart and to be feared. Harry Angel's intrusion into this world is seen as something taboo and dangerous for he's venturing into an area thats "for colored patrons only", one in which the white man is not suppose to participate. This confrontation with the dark-side, "the shadow", contains the truth of who one really is as an individual, which is beyond good and evil and the world of duality - of heaven and hell. Jung speaks of "the anima" which in the case of the male is the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that he possesses. The anima (or dream-girl) is an archeptype of the collective unconscious (which all individual psyches emerge from) and it will manifest itself in life and by appearing as figures in dreams (I hear Rourke whistling "Girl Of My Dreams" in the background). Jung wrote that confronting ones "shadow" is an apprentice-piece, while confronting ones "anima" is the master-piece. The character Epiphany is a pure anima figure. The word epiphany also has the definition, among others, as "a manifestation of deitys on earth such as angels appearing to mortals". Harry Angel is drawn to her in his search, spiritually and erotically, because he seeks to be re-united with the unconscious aspect of his true identity - the one that was there before the original fall, before he hid himself behind a mask (what Jung refers to as "the persona"- the front that one presents to the world). But first Harry needs to confront the shadow-side, make the blood sacfrifice and make his hellish descent. This has to happen before he can ever be redeemed and experience grace - he will have to do his time in Hell. This is like Dante wandering through Hades before he can find his feminine ideal, Beatrice ( another classic anima, "Girl Of My Dreams" figure). The vicious attack dog that chases Angel is a contemporary hellhound which in myths are often depicted as chasing a lost soul - "There's A Hellhound On My Trail", to quote the great bluesman Robert Johnson. One could also say, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (to quote Bob Dylan) in discussing another reoccuring image in the film. The rain can be seen as a cleansing of the soul, a purification, which first must come with judgement and personally being held accountable for who and what one REALLY is. After that its possible to be resurrected, to be whole - the final flowering of the individuation process. Its not by coincidence that Lucifer the Angel in ancient texts has been referred to as "the bringer of light" (the latin translation of the name) since its his intervention that forces the hero to confront his real self. Its funny that I've seen people refer to this film as a simple story - I guess they also consider the bible simple, too.
In some ways the most fascinating level going on in "Angel Heart" is that Mickey Rourke seems to have been acting out the mythic story in his "real" life. The film is filled with parallels with "the actor's" own development - selling ones soul for stardom, losing the bargain, undergoing facial re-construction, etc.
...This isn't just being a great poetic actor (as Sean Penn has referred to him) - its being an iconic actor . . . and "Angel Heart" is an iconic film.
on June 8, 2007
I saw this and thought it was one of the "style over substance" movies that were really beginning to emerge strongly back in the late 80s, though it was still fairly creepy. Nevertheless I've never really forgotten it, and was eager to see it again when I found it on DVD for $5.
It's 1955 [I TOTALLY did not remember it as taking place in the 50s] and Mickey Rourke is Harold Angel, low-rent private detective. He is hired by Robert DeNiro as Louis Cyphere to find a singer called Johnny Favorite. He has vanished, and DeNiro wants to know if he's still alive.
Already one can tell that this is a modern noir, what with the low-rent detective and all the shadows in the photography. Rourke finds that Favorite was checked out of the hospital he was supposedly in, and hunts down the doctor who was in charge. He interrogates him, then leaves for a while, and when he comes back the man is dead. So he begins to think that someone is following him, killing the people he talks to after he finds them. Upon hearing this, DeNiro ups the price to $5,000. Rourke's search leads him down to New Orleans, where he witnesses some creepy voodoo rituals and gets involved with the beautiful Lisa Bonet. Finally his search ends with a surprising revelation that really ruins his day.
If you've never seen it, that's all I can tell you. If you like spooky movies with lots of atmosphere [it's not really scary, just very creepy all the way through], you should definitely check this out. It has good performances, a fairly tight script, and a good twist at the end. Okay, bye!
SPOILERS > > >
Okay, now for the rest of us who have seen it... I was interested to see how this would hold up after all these years, and particularly after knowing what was coming. I'm pleased to say that--it does! In fact, it may have a little more power and poignancy, as if you DON'T know what's happening you have to look back on everything, and it seems to me that your real satisfaction comes from looking back on the movie afterward. If you do know what's coming, you can admire DeNiro's devilish [arr! arr!] sadism in making Harry hunt himself, and have a little more feeling for the clueless Harry as his blasé world weariness is slowly drained away and he begins to really panic over what's going on.
DeNiro was even better than I remembered [aside from looking HOT and exuding that whole `menacing mobster' thing that I like], especially after you know the story and realize that he is just toying with Harry from the start. His whole air of amused sadism and absolute still confidence really works. That said, in retrospect I think the movie kind of overdid the whole "I am Satan" thing with the extended shots of his pentagram ring and long fingernails and cane and throne and especially the "this egg represents the soul"...CHOMP scene. I can see how those things might seem evocative if you were just trying to piece this whole thing together, but even so I think it could have done with less of them. There's a note in the IMDb trivia that says DeNiro was doing an imitation of Martin Scorsese in his performance, but it doesn't say where that information came from. Anyway, good one Robert!
Mickey Rourke is also fine. He handles his role without a hitch, but I think a lot of the mileage he gets out of it is due to the script and plot. Lisa Bonet is also on hand, presented in a very sexual way from the very beginning, when she appears in a wet t-shirt with her nipples out to HERE. And Charlotte Rampling is very well deployed as an imperious fortune teller, which works, as she seems so otherworldly anyway.
One of the things I remember from watching it the first time is--well, Lavern Baker's recording of "Soul On Fire," which has become a staple of my record collection--but also the extensive shots of FANS. At first I thought that was just a somewhat arbitrary piece of atmosphere, but in retrospect I think the fans receive a loving close-up [as opposed to just being around, as they are throughout] when Harry loses consciousness and becomes the person who is killing all of his informants. I would have to watch it again to make sure--which I'm not going to do for a while--but look for that and see what you think. My first clue about that was the shot showing the fan reversing direction shortly before Mickey finds the dead doctor.
I watched this with my boyfriend, who had never seen it, and he figured out the twist about five minutes before it is officially revealed, which I think is perfect--you figure it out on your own, which is fun, just before it is revealed, so you don't have too long of knowing the secret while the movie thinks you're still in the dark, which is annoying.
Anyway, it's still good! If you're interested in seeing how well it's constructed and admiring the performances in a way you can't really when you don't know what's going on, I'd definitely recommend giving this one another look.