Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heart Attack: "Angel Heart" (1987)

Mickey Rourke, still good enough to appear in theatrical releases as opposed to straight to video fare, stars as the New York private detective Harry Angel.

The setting is 1955, and this normally lowbrow investigator is hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing singer named Johnny Favorite, who owes Cyphre a debt. Angel begins making the usual inquiries, finding out that Favorite was an amnesiac WWII veteran who was spirited from the local hospital by a mysterious duo who paid a morphine addicted doctor $25,000 to keep the patient on the books as a resident there.

Angel seems to have hit a dead end, learning Favorite had a society girlfriend down south, as well as a secret lover. Cyphre keeps pushing Angel, plying him with cash. Angel also takes a more personal angle on the case, especially since the doctor ends up dead of an apparent suicide, but Angel is a murder suspect. Angel goes to New Orleans, and tracks down the society girlfriend Margaret (Charlotte Rampling). As Angel finds more and more people who used to know Favorite before the war, but have not seen him since, the witnesses turn up dead after seeing him. Margaret, as well. Lisa Bonet is Epiphany, the offspring of the secret lover and Favorite, and Angel is drawn to her, resulting in one bloody love making session. She is mysterious, is 17 and has a child (something not exactly looked up to in the '50's), and comments that Favorite was the most evil person on the face of the earth. And Cyphre keeps Angel on the case, even as more bodies pile up and the New Orleans police look into Angel's motions. We soon learn the real relationship between Angel and Favorite, and Cyphre's true identity.

This film is most notorious for Cosby alum Bonet's sex and nude scenes, which are not all that notorious except that she was on the squeaky clean sitcom first. Rourke is very good as the slightly dumb Angel, who kind of stumbles from person to person as opposed to doing any kind of brilliant Sherlock Holmesian deductions. De Niro is great as Cyphre in his few scenes. This was made back when DeNiro did not agree to appear in EVERY film made; when his very screen presence was an event. He should make more genre films, but he made the laughable "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein," instead. Rampling is given nothing to do except make a cute corpse.

The main surprise ending of the story is too easy to figure out. The mechanics of Favorite and Angel's relationship are hinted at, but Cyphre has a line about an egg being a symbol of the soul, and you pretty much have it once you hear him say it.

Parker's visuals are stunning, nothing appeared on screen this disturbing until "Jacob's Ladder," to which this film favorably compares. His version of New Orleans is appropriately hot and humid, another great instance where he makes his main characters sweat and suffer just like normal people (just look at the perspiring Phil Joanou made Alec Baldwin go through in "Heaven's Prisoners). Great look and good script, by Parker based on the novel by William Hjortberg.

All in all, "Angel Heart" succeeds enough times to make it a scary, suspenseful ride. You may know how it all comes out, but getting there is the fun. (* * * * *) out of five stars.