The beauty of Angel Heart resides in its ability to trick us into thinking it’s a lot more complicated than it actually is. Angel Heart is wonderfully simple, something you will appreciate more when you return to it for a second viewing. The film revolves around Harry Angel, a grubby, greasy private eye who takes on a case in the search for a missing man. Along the way he meets an abundance of quirky characters who, between them, share very little. Early on, you get the impression that the film is leading to something in particular and as the film reaches its finale, Angel finally begins to understand the true nature of his investigation. Angel is hired by Mr. Cypher a man with an eerie presence and appearance. The film is trance-like, with Angel gliding from scenes of murder into scenes of celebration. He is constantly being interrupted or awoken and he swims through illusions of horror. For the most part, Angel Heart is a detective thriller; well-paced and full of male brooding and mystery. Yet it drifts in and out of the supernatural and the horror genre; doing so with style and panache. With names such as Angel, Louis Cypher and Epiphany cropping up, it’s not long before we work out where this film’s going and it’s thoroughly enjoyable waiting to get there.
Alan Parker is a diverse director who demonstrates his versatility in Angel Heart. From Bugsy Malone to The Life of David Gale, Parker always maintains a great understanding of character and direction. Parker can be trusted with pacing and structure and his filmography boasts some truly thrilling pieces of work and Angel Heart is just one of them. Mickey Rourke staggers around in the role of Angel. He seems constantly overtired and a little intoxicated and aware of his own flaws. Rourke brings an erratic manner and a solitude to Angel, something reminiscent of the classic film-noir of the forties. De Niro famously based Cypher on Martin Scorsese and supposedly unnerved the film’s cast and director during shooting with his commitment to the role. De Niro brings his usual finesse to a role he grabs with both hands. Angel finds himself in and out of churches and his investigation travels to many a dead end. The film is awash with haunting background music, escaping from crowded jazz halls, diner jukeboxes and church choirs. Angel Heart balances the mysterious with the menacing and indulges in superstitions and double meanings. From start to finish Parker knows where he wants this thrilling mix of horror and drama to go. Until we get to the film’s delicious ending, we experience 90 minutes of style, suspense and the spiritual, all combined by a devilishly good soundtrack.
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