Angel Heart (DVD, 2008, Canadian; Special Edition; Widescreen)

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Angel Heart (1987)

Sep 17, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:casting, direction, sets, uncompromising story

Cons:will offend many, not for kids, overdone

One of the most controversial films of 1987, Angel Heart has since fallen into nearly as much obscurity as the career of its leading man, Mickey Rourke. Sources disagree concerning the fate of Rourke. Some say he became a professional boxer. Some say he lost his hair and turned into Bruce Willis.

But it is not facetious to say that Rourke gave at least one great performance, as Harry Angel in Angel Heart. Never mind that his bedraggled, cynical, harried private eye character is much like the characters in his other watchable films, such as Diner and Barfly. The role is perfect for him, and he makes the best of it.

Despite its controversy, Angel Heart did not do that well at the box office. This was partly because the film offended so many people, and partly because it crossed genres. It begins as a familiar nostalgic 'film noir' mystery, but gradually crosses the line into horror. While explicit sex scenes and graphic depiction of violence were nothing new by 1987, the film is unpleasant throughout. The walls gradually close in on Harry Angel, and he gets the look of a wounded and hunted animal.

But for those with a stomach for its bloody imagery and uncompromising ending, Angel Heart has its rewards. Not the least of which is giving Robert De Niro a role that is worthy of his talents. Hint: the character's name is Louis Cypher.

The year is 1955. Cypher hires Angel to find Johnny Favorite, who owes a debt to Cypher. Favorite was a wartime-era crooner with a brief popularity, and Cypher follows his trail from New York City to New Orleans. Angel locates witnesses who know something about Johnny, but before he can get the truth from them, they are brutally slain. Is Johnny tailing Angel, and murdering those who talk? Or is the truth even more horrifying?

Director Alan Parker creates an ominous mood of evil and doom through imagery. Several scenes have blood on the walls or dripping from the ceiling. Chickens are prominently featured. So are ceiling fans, that turn clockwise in some scenes and counter-clockwise in others. There's a reason for all this imagery, which makes a second viewing of the film as educational as the first.

Angel Heart is famous for getting Lisa Bonet briefly booted from the nation's then highest-rated television show, "Cosby". Like any good father, it seems that Bill Cosby was enraged that his sitcom daughter would make such an unwholesome film, in which Bonet had a lengthy nude scene and even slaughtered a chicken to smear its blood on her chest. Bonet was relegated to the spinoff "A Different World", but did eventually return to "Cosby".

Another controversy arose from the love scene between Rourke and Bonet, which included a blood-dripping ceiling and an attempted strangulation. This was all too much for the MPAA censors, who gave Angel Heart an 'X' rating. Producers negotiated an 'R' rating by removing ten seconds from the infamous scene, which has since been restored on some home video versions.

Angel Heart may have actually been too gory, and too disagreeable for its own good. While De Niro has several great lines to deliver along with a wry smile, the film is otherwise lacking in comic relief. Lisa Bonet's character is given little motivation for her actions, and Angel mixes with too easily with the black characters to suit that segregated era.

Alan Parker has made other good films as well. I can recommend Evita and Midnight Express, although like Angel Heart they are not without their flaws. (71/100)



Recommend this product? Yes


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