Sunday, October 9, 2011

Angel Heart

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(113 min, 1987)
Director: Alan Parker
Writers: Alan Parker (screenplay), William Hjortsberg (novel)
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro and Lisa Bonet

How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the wise?

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.“
-Victor Hugo

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private investigator. He is hired by a mysterious man (Robert De Niro) to track down a singer called Johnny Favorite. But the investigation takes an unexpected and somber turn.

One of my dreams is to go to Louisiana, especially New Orleans – this seems to be such a beautiful, magical place. So whenever I see a movie set there, I have to watch it. And I very rarely regret doing so.

One can argue if there's magic in the world, but there certainly are places on Earth where it's believed to not only exist, but is being practiced. There are camps for witches in Africa, children are being slaughtered and their remains buried under houses which is believed to bring wealth. Even if that doesn't work there is so much darkness surrounding that issue, it's a real mystery why Hollywood doesn't deal with hoodoo or voodoo more often. Many practitioners can be found in previously mentioned Louisiana and that makes for a perfect setting for a movie like “Harry Angel”.

It's difficult to capture that peculiar, fascinating mood of this place - “Skeleton Key” attempted it, but “Angel Heart” succeeded in it. The cigarette smoke everywhere, sensual music, blood, dirt, sex, dark corridors, leaking ceilings, the main hero in a trench coat and, of course, a mystery. The quick cuts inserted in scenes, which help to add actual rhythm to them, the sounds used to bring in more scary vibe to the movie (the scene where Angel finds cut out human heart is incredible), the dream sequences and faded memories coming back, appearing out of nowhere. The movie is extremely well made, it has a steady pace and the story that keeps getting more and more disturbing with each moment, to finally erupt with horror in the final moments of the movie.

“Angel Heart” is basically a detective story, set in a very strange place – the main players include Harry, mysterious guy who hires him and keeps behaving in very erratic and strange way, and the people Angel meets on his way to find Favorite – including two women – classy and wealthy Margaret (I was surprised to see Charlotte Rampling – she always pops out of nowhere and delivers beautiful performances) and poor, seventeen year old voodoo practitioner Epiphany (Lisa Bonet, later married to Lenny Kravitz). Every character, even if we don't know much about that person, is interesting – each character looks like someone hiding dangerous secrets and carrying emotional baggage.

The film includes a lot of hints and clever symbolism, in which I can't dwell into, in order to not reveal anything major to you. By the end of the movie, once you think about it, the story appears to be easy to guess. But I didn't – the clues where right there before me, but I was so occupied cherishing the visuals, the music, trying not to get lost in the story, that I didn't even focus on attempting to figure it out. And once you realize what actually went down in this movie, how terrible the murders really were and you think a little about the sex scene (still – one of the hottest sex scenes I've seen, no wonder it was so controversial in 1987) – it hits you what kind of horrible monstrosity the movie is really dealing with.

However, it still manages to include a lot of humor, mostly in the dialogues. We like the character of Harry – he seems simple, caring and overall a good guy, so we're hoping he'll be all right. That's why the movie is so powerful in its ending – we care about the character and we feel awful that a good person was manipulated and cruelly played with.

The movie has a lot of memorable scenes, the most recognizable one being the one with the egg. It's wonderful when the film has so many scenes, individual shots, characters and settings and everything seems necessary – the plot is intricate but doesn't have holes in it. And the meticulously prepared details – like the inside of Margaret's apartment or Angel's office and carefully presented pieces of scenes, leading up to big reveal are impressive. After watching this movie you will never be able to think with a smile on your face about that kiss sailor and nurse shared to celebrate the end of World War II again.

The movie is very atmospheric and well made – it's a great mix of crime, horror, subtle love story and supernatural thriller – it's like “Skeleton Key” meets “Jacob's ladder”. Since I love such movies, it is hard for me to imagine what would make this movie more perfect than it already is. I can only pray they will never shoot the remake of it – the movie stands the test of time well – I can't think of one thing that needs improving. Plus the movie has Mickey Rourke, who after some bad decisions and even worse surgeries will never be able to be that adorable and smite women with his great looks again. He was perfect as Harry, but watching him when he was young, after you see “The Wrestler”, “Iron Man 2” and “The Expendables” is a truly shocking experience. De Niro looks to have a lot of fun in his performance, which is perfect for him. All I can say is – if you haven't seen this movie yet do so as soon as you can. One of the best, darkest movies I've seen.



  1. Thnx for sharing this. I truly agree.

  2. Excellent review, Margaret -- beautifully written. I remember "the twist" in this movie and some of the creepy, atmospheric aspects. I vaguely remember something disturbing involving some chickens. That's about it. I haven't seen it since 1988 -- maybe it's time to see it again. ;-)

    1. Thank you so much! Oh yeah, there was a creepy chicken scene in this one :) You definetly should, perfect movie for Halloween month!

  3. Excellent look at this one Sati. This was my favourite movie many years ago and we seem to be thinking similarly. I had this one in the works for Halloween also. I reviewed it years ago but I done it very lazily and thought I'd do another one. Great quote at the beginning by the way, that's always stuck in my head.

    1. Thank you! Glad to read it's one of your favorites, I feel like this is such an underrated movie.

  4. Great review, you should check out my one if you get time.