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Angel Heart

#57 - Angel Heart
Alan Parker, 1987

In 1955, a New York detective is hired to locate a missing singer in New Orleans.

Great films can be made or broken by repeat viewings, and Angel Heart may show signs of cracking but it has more than enough greatness to keep itself together. The grimy noir tale of a downbeat private eye (Mickey Rourke) being hired by a mysterious benefactor (Robert De Niro) to learn the whereabouts of a singer starts off fairly normally, though a certain unavoidable piece of foreshadowing will make even the most inattentive viewer realise that something's not quite right. This certain sense of wrongness is definitely borne out by the rest of the film, as Rourke's seemingly straightforward investigation quickly leads to an escalating body count as he delves further and further into the occult mystery surrounding the singer's disappearance, eventually traveling to New Orleans in order to follow up some leads. Given the incredibly twisted nature of not only the central mystery but also the various scenes of horror and violence that abound, it's easy to wonder whether or not Angel Heart would hold up a second time (especially since the extremely similar Jacob's Ladder didn't do as well as I'd hoped when I revisited it last year).

Fortunately, Angel Heart holds up very well. Rourke delivers one of his best performances underneath his familiar brand of nasal rasping, communicating everything from slick charm to abject terror in his search for not just the truth but also for a way out of his increasingly dangerous predicament. De Niro only appears in a handful of scenes but he still has a commanding screen presence despite playing a softly-spoken gentleman who stands in stark contrast to Rourke's uncouth investigator. That also tends to apply to various performers whose scenes definitely involve quality over quantity, whether it's Charlotte Rampling as an affluent mystic or Lisa Bonet as a voodoo priestess. Parker's film-making has always given me a weird vibe that doesn't quite make him an auteur but does leave a distinct impression on some outwardly journeyman-like films; while this lent extra personality to straightforward works like Mississippi Burning or The Commitments, in a film like Angel Heart it makes an already-disturbing plot feel all the more frantic even in the quietest scenes. As a result, Angel Heart makes for a great take on a familiar genre that may be prone to the odd moment of '80s excess but is still surprisingly solid in the face of a plot that seems to threaten repeat viewings but never actually does.