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USA 1987
Directed by
Alan Parker
113 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Angel Heart

Angel Heart is set in 1955 with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel, a low rent Brooklyn private eye specializing in missing persons and divorce cases.  He is approached to track down a missing swing era singer, Johnny Favorite. Angel takes the case but as the bodies mount up Angel finds himself entangled in the black arts down New Orleans way.

Director and scenarist Alan Parker sets out to outdo Raymond Chandler and ends up losing all sight of him in this convoluted and ultimately pointless neo-noir. The result is a film that on the one hand is a lavishly crafted exercise in noir style and atmosphere thanks to the top drawer production design by Brian Morris and evocative cinematography  by Michael Seresin (who had lensed Parker’s 1978 Oscar winner Midnight Express) and, on the other, a film which is so visually and aurally outré that one cannot help but feel a little dirty after it's all over.

The film starts well enough in the noir style, somewhat reminiscent of Farewell, My Lovely, Dick Richards 1975 update of the 1944 noir classic, Murder, My Sweet, giving us rainy streets in a run-down area of Manhattan, Angel’s suitably dingy office and Angel himself unshaven and unwashed. From that point however Parker starts overdressing the story as Angel goes to a Harlem meeting in a building that for no apparent reason also hosts a Negro evangelical religious service. Here he meets his future employer, Louis Cyphre, a suavely enigmatic chap who likes showing off his manicured fingernails and twirling a cane like a pantomime villain.  He is played with compete lack of persuasion by Robert De Niro who looks like he has just walked off the set of The Mission (which was released the previous year) and makes no attempt to feign a French accent despite being introduced as “Monsieur”. In his intermittent appearances De Niro does little but smile with evident bemusement at Angel who is clearly the fly in his web of intrigue

From there, Rourke who gets top-billing in what with Barfly, also released the same year, constituted the peak of his career, doggedly shuffles his way from one plot point to the next as Parker drags us through the mire and to a surprise, genre-bending ending. Charlotte Rampling appears looking as uncomfortable as she did in Farewell. My Lovely whilst Lisa Bonet provides a rare mote of light as a young voodoo practitioner in what is otherwise a wallow in the abject..

In hindsight you can see what Angel Heart might have been had not Parker played what is potentially a clever psychological thriller as a lurid murder mystery (the often clumsy substitution of a stunt double for Rourke in the action,scenes, including the surreal sex scene, is emblematic of the mis-handling of the material) . For once, some Production Code restraint such as the original noirs worked with might have resulted in a better film.




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