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A gumshoe private investigator is hired by a mysterious and malevolent client to find a missing crooner who owes him on a debt, but when the PI starts his investigation he is thwarted by the murders of his possible witnesses and haunted by unexplainable demonic nightmares. As he nears his catch, the identity of the missing person is closer to him than he thinks.
For more about Angel Heart and the Angel Heart Blu-ray release, see Angel Heart Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 29, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Robert De Niro, Lisa Bonet, Charlotte Rampling, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Kathleen Wilhoite
Director: Alan Parker
» See full cast & crew
Angel Heart Blu-ray Review
Did the devil make Harry Angel do it? You'll have to decide for yourself in the haunting mystery thriller 'Angel Heart.'
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 29, 2009
To paraphrase the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, New Orleans can't get no respect. Let's put aside such real life horrors as Katrina for a moment and just concentrate on its filmic representations. Has there been any other major U.S. city repeatedly depicted as being Ground Zero for any number of corruptions, degradations and outright moral decrepitude? From the dysfunctions of such classics as A Streetcar Named Desire to the literal bloodsucking of Interview With a Vampire, New Orleans seems to be, somehow, the perfect locale for seedy goings on that often reveal the grimy underbelly lying beneath the shiny quasi-European veneer of The French Quarter. This predilection is probably nowhere more on display than in Alan Parker's long lived cult phenomenon, Angel Heart, a film that melds a film noir ethos onto a supernatural skeleton (literally), with a convoluted plot that may seem glaringly obvious to contemporary audiences only because its innovations have been so repeatedly ripped off by other films in the intervening years since Angel Heart's original release in 1987.
The film's basic set up is simplicity itself, though a plot précis of a film like this with a couple of major ostensible twists runs the risk of either revealing too little to inform the reader or too much, thereby spoiling the potential viewer's surprise quotient. So I'll try to tread a middle path and say simply that mid-1950's era private dick Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by a sort of nefarious gentleman (Robert De Niro) to track down a long since disappeared crooner by the unlikely name of Johnny Favorite. De Niro's character (I am not revealing his name for reasons which fans of the film will understand) claims Favorite owes him something substantial, though the real meaning of that debt doesn't become clear until the film's nightmarish denouement. Angel is set out on a spooky investigation that starts out in New York City's Harlem but soon goes down south to the equally dark and dank world of The Big Easy. Angel soon becomes involved with a sort of Ioruba priestess, played by a nubile Lisa Bonet, as well as a fortune teller essayed by Charlotte Rampling. Unfortunately, virtually everyone Angel comes in contact with, most of whom have some connection to the enigmatic Favorite, soon end up dead, often by horrifying means.
Angel Heart is a film drenched in an almost subliminal mood of nightmare visions and subconscious terror. While a lot of this moodiness can be traced to actual nightmares Angel experiences, it's really a broader attempt by Parker to infuse the entire film with a surreal ambience that hints at horror as often as it depicts it outright. In the opening credits sequence, we see a shrouded character walking down a Manhattan street during a cobalt blue midnight. A dog and cat check each other out in the cool late night light. Even before a shock cut to a bleeding corpse sends the hair on the back of the viewer's neck into full attention, there's already something unsettling happening, and it's that same nuance that Parker brings to the entire enterprise of Angel Heart.
There's a more or less straight line from the traditional mysteries of Hitchcock to the more psychological works of Polanski which blend the banalities of everyday life with an undercurrent of absolute dread, straight through to this very unique piece by Parker, a director who doesn't have an enormous film output, but who has repeatedly proven himself as one of the most versatile helmsmen in modern film, able to succeed in everything from quasi-musicals (Bugsy Malone, The Wall, Fame, The Commitments, Evita) to socially conscious history lessons (Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, Come See the Paradise). Parker really isn't a flashy director, but Angel Heart is a study in extremely effective understatement, nowhere more so than in Rourke's excellently tamped down performance, which erupts in hysteria at the end of the film in a moment of revelation that matches Mia Farrow's at the bassenet in Rosemary's Baby. While Bonet is somewhat lackadaisical in her portrayal of the wonderfully named Epiphany Proudfoot, she's alluring and sinister in equal measure. Of course her blood drenched sex scene with Rourke raised the hackles of the religious right before the film was even released, leading to that scene being trimmed by several seconds in order to secure an 'R' rating, but also assuring the film's cult status once it arrived in an unrated version on home video. Parker also delivers a ceaselessly interesting array of images throughout this film, helped immeasurably by the magnificently visceral cinematography of Michael Seresin. Trevor Jones' music is also incredibly effective, with a repeated quote of "Girl of My Dreams" (often riffed on by saxman Courtney Pine). Parker sometimes is too declarative for his own good; the trope of the swirling fan becomes rather silly after a while, though it's a sign of Parker's particular genius that he is able to imbue such foreboding into such a commonplace item.
It may be interesting for some viewers to compare Angel Heart with the original Edward Woodward version of the iconic Wicker Man. Again, without giving away too much for people who haven't seen either film, both efforts have a lead character on the hunt for a missing person, hunts where many of the alleged witnesses have something to hide. More importantly, both films feature devastating climaxes where the investigators suddenly figure out how central to the investigations they themselves are. Angel Heart may add in its own way to New Orleans' filmic tale of woe, but it is one of the most haunting film experiences of the past couple of decades, and right or wrongly makes New Orleans an unforgettable symbol of lost souls and unsettled accounts.
Angel Heart Blu-ray, Video Quality
Wow! Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I have a distinct recollection of the VHS tape of Angel Heart being a dark and grimy affair, littered with omnipresent grain and virtually no contrast. I did get the Special Edition DVD when it came out, and watched it then, and appreciated the significant image upgrade that that version provided. But nothing really prepared me for the brilliantly clear and clean image of this 1080p/AVC encoded image. At last one can fully understand why Parker sings DP Seresin's praises so highly. Though often very dark and at times purposefully devoid of saturation and with a certain intentional softness which permeates many scenes, this is a film dripping in shades of lugubrious color, from the deep midnight blues which open the film, to the shocking gashes of red which portend the many murders the film contains. The film is purposefully blanched in several segments, but even those offer superior detail and contrast, especially when compared to previous releases of the film. About midway through the film, in a brief interior scene with Rourke, I had to wonder if a different film stock was utilized, as that brief moment was noticeably softer and with more apparent grain than the rest of the film. Otherwise, though, this is a really remarkable upgrade. Scenes of New Orleans streets bristle with detail and you can see for what seems like miles, far into the background of several scenes. Black levels are consistent and contrast is remarkably good, especially considering how purposefully dark a lot of this film is. A lot of the interior scenes have such abundant grain that it may bother some viewers, but I personally found it completely natural looking and in keeping with Parker's vision for the film.
Angel Heart Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 mix offers some excellent low frequencies throughout the film which help maintain an aura of menace and dread. The repeated whispers of "Harry" and "Johnny" emanate from the side channels with the sort of subconscious terror that haunts a recurrent nightmare. The bulk of the film is simply dialogue, and that is presented cleanly and crisply through the front channels. Surround channels kick in in a couple of great sequences, notably the "voodoo" ritual, where the chanting and drum beats surround the listener with a cacophony of sounds, the "raining blood" sex scene which made the film so infamous before its release, and in a couple of car chase scenes. Otherwise, this is a remarkably subtle sound mix for a horror film, one which makes something seemingly banal like the sudden burst of chickens cackling a portent of terror. Pine's saxophone offers a reedy, almost vocal underpinning to Trevor Jones' underscore, and it is mixed well throughout the film.
Angel Heart Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Many of the extras from the previously released Special Edition SD-DVD have been ported over (in SD) to this new Blu-ray:
Angel Heart Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Angel Heart has the hypnotic power of a dream gone horribly, horribly wrong. Rourke has probably never been better, perfectly understated for almost all of the film, which makes the astounding climax all the more remarkable. De Niro is creepy fun as the client hiring Harry Angel, and Bonet is sexy if nothing else. But this is Parker's show all the way, and with a stellar crew he has crafted one of the great post-Rosemary's Baby horror thrillers, a film which, like Polanski's masterpiece, manages to make seemingly everyday events overflow with menace and dread.
Angel Heart: Other Editions
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Angel Heart Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Lionsgate Catalog Wave for November - September 3, 2009
Lionsgate Home Entertainment is set to release no fewer than eight catalog titles on Blu-ray on November 24. Apart from 'Air America', which we already told you about, the studio has slated the following titles: 'Angel Heart', 'Cujo: 25th Anniversary Edition', ...
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