Angel Heart

Angel Heart (1987)
Live Entertainment
Cast: Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro
Extras: Theatrical trailer, Featurette

It has been a long time since I last saw "Angel Heart", yet I remembered it well. It is a striking movie, expertly blending elements of the horror genre with classic film noir, resulting in a film that defies clichés, creating uniquely individual viewing experiences. It is a controversial film in many aspects, breaking with the conventions of genres and expectations, outsmarting the viewer all the way to the story’s final revelation.

A small-time private eye in ‘50s Brooklyn, Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) barely makes enough money to keep his head above water. One day, he receives a phone call from a law firm informing him that one of their clients seeks his advice. He meets the eccentric Louis Cypher (Robert DeNiro) in a run-down house and receives his assignment: Cypher asks the detective to track down Johnny Favorite, a man with whom Cypher had made a contract, a man who never paid off his debt, and now, it seems, a man who has vanished from the face of the earth. Apparently, after being submitted to a mental hospital as a result of a shellshock war trauma, Favorite disappeared without a trace. While not overly interested in the case at first, Angel accepts mainly for the pay Cypher offers for the job. Going through the files of the hospital, he quickly discovers that Johnny was released from the asylum years ago. Latching on to a few loose ends, Angel manages to track down people Johnny knew… but everyone he talks to or seeks out winds up dead, their corpses mutilated. Angel, disheartened, believes that the case might be a little too big for a hard-luck gumshoe; when Cypher offers a much larger sum, Angel’s enthusiasm for the case is restored. Not even the discovery that he has become the main murder suspect can keep Angel from trying to solve this case.

"Angel Heart" is a dark, unsettling thriller that covers a ground from the dark streets of Brooklyn to the run down quarters of Harlem to the smoky jazz clubs of New Orleans to humid swamps of Louisiana… and, by implication, hellish consequences. Director Alan Parker uses these backdrops to create a disturbing atmosphere that is threatening and mesmerizing at the same time. The images he creates are so captivating and real that you can nearly feel the sweat on people’s bodies as they make their way through the sticky air of New Orleans’ French Quarter, can nearly smell the heavy and sweet air of the Mississippi delta, can nearly feel the chill that goes through Angel’s bones each time he discovers the murder of one of his sources. Recognizing that someone is watching his every step and ensuring that his contacts won’t live long enough to tell him what they know, Angel’s mounting desperation becomes palpable.

"Angel Heart" boasts a very strong cast, spearheaded by Mickey Rourke’s riveting performance as Harry Angel quite possibly the best, most memorable of his entire career. It is fascinating to watch Rourke, an unshaven and unwashed slob, breathing life and sympathy into the role of the charismatic down-and-out private eye. His performance stands out even next to Robert DeNiro’s first-class portrayal of the enigmatic Louis Cypher. The well-rounded cast is filled out by Charlotte Rampling and Lisa Bonet herself making a fine showing, especially convincing in the "bamboucher" scene, portraying a god-mounted voodoo child in trance. A large part of the movie’s charm results from its breathtakingly ominous cinematography and the intricate set dressing. Live Entertainment have done this visually striking move full justice with an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer that is quite sharp and beautifully done. It brings out every detail in the shadowy settings without any hints of <$pixelation,pixelation> or other artifacts. The colors are rich and vibrant, well saturated and hued, but without any bleeding or noise whatsoever; I am deeply impressed with this disc’s natural look despite the movie’s many difficult and complex lighting conditions. There is not a bit of noise in the picture, nor traces of dust on the film’s transfer itself. This disc is completely clean and is a sight for sore eyes. It also contains the movie’s theatrical trailer and a 10-minute featurette that covers some of the film’s origins and intentions, although it is not exactly a "Making Of" documentary.

The movie’s elaborate soundtrack is as crucial to "Angel Heart" as the stunning visuals, and this DVD doesn’t disappoint. The disc contains a 2.0 channel <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack that creates a tapestry as thick as the Louisiana rain and as enchanting as the film’s voodoo rituals. The music is unsettling at times, but never unnerving. From one scene to another, it then captures the rich, poignant flavor of gospels, jazz, and blues that are the unmistakable trademarks of Louisiana’s heritage. "Angel Heart" comes with an English soundtrack only and contains Spanish subtitles. "Angel Heart" is hard to capture fully because of its uniqueness; it is difficult to show a piece of it without fear of unraveling the story, or of doing an injustice to the remainder of the movie. It is a movie that requires a personal experience, a movie that requires reflection and understanding in order to grasp its contexts and the details it encompasses. It is a memorable movie that you will not forget too easily, due both to its somewhat gruesome nature, as well as its striking and scary visuals. Though it begins as little more than a simple private-eye movie, "Angel Heart" quickly descends through a supernatural abyss into occult themes that play out the movie’s early promise brilliantly. Live Entertainment have done a great job transferring this movie to DVD, and have achieved something that seems nearly impossible: making even "Angel Heart" look better.