Movies »Angel Heart

angel heart Angel Heart is nothing if not divisive, managing a strange balance between campy, sly humor (DeNiro chews it up as a “Louis Cyphre” – literally, and not too hard to figure out, “Lucifer”) and a dedication to taking itself seriously as a genre piece (the genre in question being?occult noir). It's a film both extremely crude and intricate that splits audiences in half: for every person who does not care for it, you're likely to find somebody else who counts it among their favorite films.

It's overwhelmed by the controversial appearance of a very sexed up young Lisa Bonet in a very un-Cosby like role, a performance as alarming upon the film's release in 1987 as it remains in most viewers' memories. Aside from the very graphic sexuality (which nearly earned the movie an X rating), the particulars of the plot tend to have been forgotten by most viewers over the years; I recalled the mood much more vividly than any plot particulars.

It's too bad, in a way, because the story (which I was really excited to learn was based upon a novel called Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, author of Brix Pick Gray Matters) is, on one hand, pretty straight forward. It's also pretty compelling, even as the final twists and turns delve into deeper, pulpier areas. When demons reclaim souls with special effect yellow eyes that would have worked fine decades earlier, these days they're just daring you to giggle even as you hunker under the palpable dread and muck that the rest of the movie has so effectively conjured up.

When it comes to building atmosphere and creating beautiful images, director Alan Parker is a master. Mickey Rourke, who, in the late '80s still looked human, is perfect as rumpled private detective Harry Angel. Roger Ebert wrote eloquently of his performance, “Rourke occupies the center of the film like a violent unmade bed.”

You really have to give yourself over to the movie to enjoy it, and roll with both the surprises and the obvious. Once you accept it on its own terms, you'll discover an underrated cult classic that it still (at the very least) far more interesting than most new releases you're likely to come across.

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Posted on May 25, 2009

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