It starts out as a good, hard-nosed, little noir mystery and then, quite suddenly, turns into a supernatural thriller.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I can count my favorite Mickey Rourke films on the finger of one hand. It isn't that I don't like Rourke as an actor; in fact, I rather admire some of his realistically rendered down-and-outers. But, his relentless tough-guy image long ago wore out its welcome. "Angel Heart" is the exception. Rourke is just right as a hard-boiled private eye.

Besides, the movie gives us two stories for the price of one. It starts out as a good, hard-nosed, little noir mystery and then, quite suddenly, turns into a supernatural thriller. It's grittier, with more edge and a lot more sex and violence, than Denzel Washington's later entry in the same genre, "Fallen." This new DVD edition of "Angel Heart" not only makes the film more fun to watch, it even helps the viewer make more sense of the story.

In the movie, Rourke plays Harry Angel, a New York detective circa 1955, hired by a mysterious and malevolent-looking client to track down a missing person named Johnny Favorite. The client, played by Robert DeNiro, is called Louis Cyphre; yes, Cyphre as in "cipher," a zero, or a key to a puzzle, a secret code. When the movie first opened, I recall reading about Rourke saying something to the effect that after working with DeNiro for the first time he didn't think DeNiro was so tough after all. It made me wonder if old Mick had a firm grip on just what was real and what was art. I suspect there is a lot more of Rourke in his movie portrayals and vice versa than meets the eye.

Anyway, the plot takes Angel from Brooklyn to Harlem to New Orleans and involves him in everything from voodoo to murder, with gallons of blood and lots of chickens thrown in. I especially liked the repeated symbolism of slowly revolving circular fans and descending elevators, as each scene leads to ever hotter climes.

Charlotte Rampling and Lisa Bonet play the female interests, and there are the usual colorful characters that befit a good detective yarn. Who can resist a picture with players in it named Stocker Fountelieu, Brownie McGhee, Deacon Johnmoore, Sugar Blue, and Pinetop Perkins. And those are the real people!

The movie was filmed to purposely avoid bright tones, so it isn't the DVD but the original print that is responsible for the slightly washed-out look. It's part of the film's atmosphere. Nevertheless, the color separation is good, and the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio is welcome in an otherwise so-so, non-anamorphic transfer.

The two-channel stereo has been remastered in Dolby Surround; it has a wide left-to-right spread, and it throws some effective out-of-phase material to the rear speakers. Again, there isn't a lot to talk about, but the sound is serviceable.

The production notes help one to better understand director Alan Parker's intentions in the film, and the cast bios are useful, too. A short featurette and a theatrical trailer are the only other bonus items.

Parting Thoughts:
If you haven't already seen "Angel Heart," it will keep you gripped to your seat. If you have seen it before, it is still intense. There's a lot going on here for repeated viewing. Unless you've got a thing about chickens.


Film Value