Director: Alan Parker
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Based on a Novel by: William Hjortsberg
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Stocker Fontelieu, Brownie McGhee
Running Time: 113min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Mickey Rourke has had a strange career (and life). He retired from acting in 1991 to become a professional boxer (he was a successful amateur before becoming an actor) and floundered for a while after that (he quit boxing in 1994) before making an impressive critically acclaimed comeback with Sin City and The Wrestler. Unfortunately he fell back once again in more recent years, largely making ropey straight-to-video fare and cameo appearances in bigger films. It’s easy to forget then that he once was quite a big star set for perhaps even bigger things. He was a handsome man back in the day so had the sex appeal required to sell tentpole features and he was also a damned good actor. Back in the 80s he starred in Body Heat (a little down the billing, but still in a notable role), Diner, Rumble Fish, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Year of the Dragon and 9 1/2 Weeks. These didn’t all set the box office alight, but some did pretty well (9 1/2 Weeks flopped in the US but was massive in other territories) and most met relative acclaim, particularly for Rourke’s performances.
Angel Heart came at the crest of this success in 1987 and was directed by Alan Parker, who was experiencing a ‘hit and miss’ run of films himself. His debut, Bugsy Malone, is well loved now but was a bit of a flop in America on release. His follow-ups, Midnight Express and Fame were big hits though. Birdy, which Parker made prior to Angel Heart, was loved by critics but didn’t make much money, so the director likely hoped his neo-noir with up-and-coming star Rourke would hit both targets. Unfortunately it didn’t, garnering mixed reviews and underperforming at the box office. However, it’s a film that had just enough love to linger in the memories of audiences and become a minor cult favourite. Studiocanal must think highly of Angel Heart as they’re releasing it in a new 4K restoration, with plenty of bells and whistles on the physical editions. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen it and in fact I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen the whole film, so I thought I’d give a whirl as the style and concept always intrigued me.
Angel Heart sees Rourke play the private investigator Harry Angel. He’s approached by the mysterious Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro) to take on the job of finding a missing person, former crooner Johnny Favourite. It seems straightforward enough to Harry, so he takes the job, but once he starts to investigate his leads keep ending up dead (literally), marking him as a prime suspect. As the case sends him from his home in New York all the way to New Orleans, he is plunged ever deeper into danger and starts to question his sanity once nightmarish visions begin to plague his mind. His only solace in the city is Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet), a young voodoo priestess linked to the case who he takes a shine to.
Like most of Parker’s films, Angel Heart is highly stylised. The film-noir genre is a good fit for him, and he and cinematographer Michael Seresin (with whom Parker worked extensively) make great use of New York locations and high contrast, shadow-laden lighting. The film’s horror angle and New Orleans setting in the second half also open up new avenues for the pair to explore. The darkness of the first half makes way for bright sunlight and warm colours to amp up the heat and sweat, and great use is made of strong reds throughout, heightening the devilish suggestions made throughout. The ramping up of the heat in the film also emphasises the idea that Harry’s ultimate destination is hell, which is also visualised through a repeated vision of a seemingly endless elevator ride.
This symbolism points towards one of the film’s major problems though. It’s loaded with religious symbolism and all-too-obvious suggestions as to the nature of the Louis Cypher character (to quote the film, “even your name is a dime store joke”) so comes across as rather hammy and over-baked, particularly in the climactic and not-at-all-surprising revelation (God knows what they were thinking with the final shot of the child too). Parker, who started out in the advertising industry, has occasionally been called out for favouring style over substance and this is a good example.
It ain’t subtle then and it’s pretty ridiculous at times, but it’s nevertheless an engrossing neo-noir with a twist. Shot with great style and nicely performed (Rourke is particularly good and De Niro is enjoyably over the top), it’s a pleasure to watch, even if its hammy nature makes it a bit of a guilty pleasure.
This new 4K restoration of Angel Heart is out now across EST, DVD, Blu-Ray and UHD released by Studiocanal, with a special 48-page booklet written by Alan Parker included with the release, offering audiences a glimpse behind-the-scenes from the production of the film. I watched the Blu-ray version of the film and it looks and sounds incredible. The picture is crisp and clear, with beautifully rich colour tones and textures. I listened to the 5.1 audio track and was impressed by its depth and clarity.
Quite a few extra features are included too:
– Alan Parker interview excerpt from Cinéastes des années 80
– Audio Commentary with Alan Parker
– Introduction to Angel Heart by Alan Parker
– A Background in Voodoo featurettes
– Original EPK and Behind the Scenes Footage
– Behind the Scenes Gallery
The ‘Cinéastes des années’ interview is particularly good, with Parker providing a lot of background information on the making of Angel Heart. His commentary starts off well with some illuminating accounts of the production, but he runs out of steam in the second half so there are some quite long gaps without commentary. The ‘Background in Voodoo’ featurettes are quite interesting, casting light on a spiritual practise that has long been given an unwarranted bad image on screen. The original press material and making of pieces are all fairly good too, if a tad fluffy, as is often the case.