Angel Heart

Elevator going down
Released:
1987

Director: Alan Parker

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling

The Setup:

Low-level private eye is hired by a mysterious stranger to locate a missing man. He locates a whole lotta trouble while he's searching.

Discussion:

I saw this back in the theater when it was out, and thought it was one of the “style over substance” movies that were really beginning to emerge strongly then, 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.

Should you watch it?

Yes, if you’ve never seen it you can watch the mystery unfold, and if you have, you can admire the performances, script, and how it is constructed.

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