Film Review: Angel Heart
Director: Alan Parker (1987)
Destroying any claim I ever had to being a film connoisseur in 3………..2………….1………….. I don’t know much about Mickey Rourke.
I know he was in The Wrestler, and I know he had a reputation for being a dick who pissed off the whole world, but apart from that he’s well off my wannabe indie filmmaker radar. Actually to be honest, I haven’t really been paying attention to the radar so even if he was right in front of me, waving a big flag and reading from a gilded edge memoir of his life, I wouldn’t have really noticed (combination of making a feature and working at crappy supermarket). I think he may have been quite good in Sin City, but I barely remember the film, except it finally found a role for Elijah Wood that wasn’t Elijah Wood (or Elijah Wood with hairy feet). Continuing the theme of honesty, It’s been tempting (and easy) to just sort of dismiss Rourke as an actor who hasn’t really left much of an impression. In fact, the first thing that springs to mind whenever I hear his name is an image of a huge bloke with an oddly shaped face and novelty cowboy hat, punching Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 25. This is cool but hardly a good sign for the importance of your acting career.
A change is occurring; faced with the choice (on the train back from a Less Than Jake gig) of listening to the drunk ramblings of the most stereotypical, Jeremy Kyle aspiring chav I’ve ever seen (we’re talking Matalan jogging bottoms, can of cheap lager and preference for referring to everyone as mate) or reading the metro, I chose the metro, or poor man’s guardian if you will. Inside was an interview with some actor who’s going to be on some television show about British spies (because they never get boring quickly and then linger on for another 9 and a ½ series, see Spooks), starring Gabriel Byrne. The Guy, who probably deserves better than me not being bothered to look up his name and lazily naming him The Guy, talked about what an influence Mickey Rourke had been. Apparently The Guy considered Rourke one of the finest actors of his generation up to Angel Heart, and had been rather annoyed to watch Rourke subvert his talent in favour of ego, addiction and a taste for boxing.
‘Huh’ thought I, ‘sounds like the type of thing the more intellectual/snobbish of my film friends would say, I better get on that’. I gathered a few of my DVD’s and it turns out I own a couple with Mr Rourke, but while Barfly’s a tempting place to begin my unfair, unqualified and meritless dissemination of the man’s acting ability, (and Iron Man 2 isn’t), I figured I’d start with Angel Heart, because it’s directed by Alan Parker, a man I’ve wanted more from since he countered the genius of The Commitments with fucking Evita, and also it was the film named in The Metro.
So here goes with Angel Heart, a psychological horror/post-noir film with themes about Voodoo that apparently led to Bill Cosby firing Lisa Bonet (then hiring her back when he realised the appeal of Bonet had covered up how unfunny Cosby was becoming, then fired her again when she realised this too), Plot summary follows.
First though, it’s important to note how startlingly normal Rourke’s face looks. Apparently Angle Heart was some time before the ‘surgery for boxing injuries went wrong’ phase of Rourke’s career, but after the ‘I’m so good I can be a prick’ age, anyway, the point is, in Angel Heart, Rourke looks good.
Segue to a video of Rourke’s Face
And return for the plot summary; It’s 1955, Good looking Mickey Rourke (who also acts really rather well) is grizzled private investigator Harry Angel. Angel is hired by Herman Winesap (Dann Florek who I remembered as the coach in Smart Guy, putting him one up on Rourke already), to meet the equally unsubtly named Louis Cypher (Robert De Niro…………….calling) for a convention of how simpler character names were in the eighties. Cypher came dressed for the occasion, sporting a twirled devil goatee, a black priest-esque frock, a giant ring complete with jewel on his finger and carrying an ebony cane shaped like the ones stage hands use to pull me off stage whenever I fail to be funny (every time I’m on stage then). Getting the feeling Cypher may be a tad bit evil.
Cypher didn’t just invite Angel to the meeting to show him his Halloween outfit though, he needs a job doing. There’s a man called Johnny Favourite, an old singer whose name no longer fits Cypher’s vision of a descriptively named world. Favourite made a deal (guess what that was) with Cypher, but then inconveniently got drafted in World War 2, came back with amnesia, faked a hospital death report and disappeared without fulfilling his end of the bargain. Cypher wants Angel to become his new favourite, or angel if you will, by finding Favourite, or former favourite, if you’re still finding this sarcastic name play entertaining.
Angel’s actually a pretty good investigator, he finds out a doctor at the hospital was bribed into faking Favourite’s death by braking into the doctor’s house. There is a mark against his performance when he finds himself framed for the (this time very real) brutal murder of said doctor, but it’s the fifties, shit happens and finger prints are inadmissible. He returns to Cypher, who pays Angel an extra five grand for his trouble, and urges him to track Favourite down. This involves traveling to New Orleans and interviewing a fortune teller with a disappointingly original name, Margret Krusemark (Charlotte Rampling who, by my count, can speak every language on the planet).
Down in New Orleans the cast gets rounded out when Angel discovers Epiphany (a surprisingly natural Lisa Bonet), the daughter of a former lover of Favourite who also lays claim to the most unsubtle name of them all. What follows is an ever more unnerving investigation…………….. and violent sex scenes. Angel encounters voodoo, mouthy lieutenants with great moustaches, some men in a van with an angry, barky little dog I just want to punch………………. and has violent brutal sex with Epiphany.
Plot summary finishes, time for some unthought out thought.
First of all the Rourke Factor, (which is a name so good I’m going to adopt it as the name for my exploration of Rourke’s career), it might be the revelation that he was once a good looking, talented actor, but Mr Rourke is awesome in Angle Heart. You expect a certain type of character in a noir styled type film and he ticks the right boxes. There’s just enough of a prick on screen for the audience to be revolted, but at the same time the guy is seemingly so much smarter than everyone else and so driven by his job that you can’t help route for him a little bit. I really enjoyed watching him, and his characterisation of Angel was superb. It was also interesting watching his scenes with De Niro………..calling, it sort of feels like a veteran anointing his successor, there’s a lot of improvisation and a wide gambit of facial expressions, the type you’d expect from two world class actors.
Conversely though, this is far far far far from De Niro’s best role, which is weird, because on paper he’s the perfect fit for Cypher. I think the problem is as follows; everything about Angel Heart is a little over-the-top, (including the names, no bad Sam, we’re past that, move on move on) and Cypher’s character is the biggest victim of this. Even eating an egg becomes overly long finger nails and a bullshit exercise in equating said egg eating to the act of eating a soul. At the end of that particular scene they finish with a close-up of Angel looking horrified. The close-up lasts way too long too, it’s as if they were so worried you wouldn’t ‘get it’, they decided to pause the film and give you time to realise how tense everything must be for someone to look so horrified. At the end of the day, it’s a guy eating an egg, you can’t make that tense or particularly interesting (except for the part of your audience passionate about egg eating) and it’s so over the top to try simply by holding onto shots of an actor looking tense or horrified. An Actors facial expression is not enough to create tension, tension has to be built, and that’s what film is an exercise in, the building of emotions and stories, if you just want to freeze frame something to ‘create’ tension, that’s what that act of painting is for, try that.
Now I think of it, the character of Cypher makes a nice microcosm for Angel Heart as a whole………….
On one hand there’s clearly a lot of talent at work, everyone acts well (Rourke and Bonet especially), there’s some genuinely unnerving use of imagery and a religious undertone that makes for some nice religious song and dance visuals. The voodoo stuff, if incredibly stereotypical, is nicely executed and there’s a neat job of sensitively nodding towards the racial issues of America in the 1950’s, while avoiding getting clunked down in the issue.
But clasping that hand is the second hand. Imagine this, you’re watching Paranormal Activity 1 (or equivalent film you find tense), now imagine every time a character gets introduced someone ten feet away with a megaphone tells you who the character is, and when things start getting tense, the same person shouts down the megaphone at you to make sure you realise it’s getting tense. It doesn’t really effect what’s on screen in terms of quality, but it damn sure spoils your enjoyment of the film.
All of which leaves me pretty unsure whether I’d recommend Angel Heart or not, so I’ll put it like this; If you’re looking for great acting by Mickey Rourke, don’t hesitate to check it out. If however your game is trying to excuse Alan Parker for making fucking Evita, you haven’t got a chance in egg eating hell!
I’ll finish on a great line I loved. Angel (Mickey Rourke, not David Boreanz, knew I wouldn’t be able to go the whole review without making that outdated reference), wakes from a slightly disturbing and violent dream in a run down hotel room, in New Orleans. In the room are two moustachioed detectives, the usual territorial pissing contest between private investigators and detectives ensues, and the main detective (who’s incredibly fat, which isn’t important but helps set the scene) leaves the room. His assistant is about to do likewise, when Angel ask, ‘Hey, you ever watch the Mickey Mouse Club?’
The assistant responds with a confused look,
Angel; ‘Cause you know what today… today is? Today is Wednesday. It’s anything can happen day’.
That my non-existent readers, is so awesome I chose to end my first film review in my Rourke Factor series with it.
Written by Sam ‘There’s nothing wrong with Elijah Wood playing Elijah Wood, he’s a good character and tends to love people called Sam’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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