Films that time forgot: Angel Heart (1987)

by MJ Wayland

Alan Parker’s Angel Heart is a visceral experience in both atmosphere and mood, with pressure cooker tension, intrigue and fear bubbling up to a burning climax. Despite its bold stylisation, it seems unfathomable that Angel Heart is not regarded as among the best of 1980′s cinema or even revered as one of the greatest examples of neo-noir film.

Upon its release, the film’s violence and sexual content courted controversy, which led to disappointing box office numbers. It was only thanks to the 80’s late night video generation that cult status was achieved, but Angel Heart is a film deserving of more exposure. While its excessive aesthetic and graphic content might not be to all tastes, it is mild by today’s standards and Parker’s use of gritty realism and lurid surrealism mark it as a modern classic ripe for a new generation to explore.

Angel Heart is the noir drenched story of private investigator Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke). Set in 1955, the film sees Angel hired by the sinister yet dubiously named, Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to track down a popular musician who’s disappeared after the Second World War. As Angel begins his investigation, strange events begin to unfold and he begins to enter a world of mystery, voodoo and death, leading him to confront the darkness in his own heart and soul.

The film’s mysterious narrative, coupled with its thick, pounding atmosphere has an identity unique to itself. Few films have such a complex and fluid identity, it is film noir, horror, period film, post-war exploration, supernatural thriller and detective fiction in equal measure.

Parker takes the audience from the faded frozen streets of Harlem to the sweltering heat of New Orleans, as Harry descends further down the rabbit hole so too does the Dante-esque imagery. The juxtaposition between these two locations reflects that of realism and surrealism within the film.

The film’s casting is pitch perfect for the noir tone of the narrative and the dark world in which it is portrayed. Mickey Rourke completely convinces as a film noir lead, embodying the traumatised and damaged post-war male. However, it is the physical deterioration of Angel throughout the film that marks Rourke’s performance as the best of his career. Rourke delves deep and pushes his emotions to hysterical levels in order to portray a man whose very soul is ripped bare.

Angel Heart is a film that alludes definition. A breathtaking experience that is unquestionably one of the great examples of neo-noir; a searing character study that grips tight and cuts deep as it drags the audience further and further into the grimy, sweaty and supremely atmospheric world of Harry Angel. A pressure cooker ready to explode.

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