Angel Heart Movie Review

A decade before Hollywood got obsessed with urban volcanoes, asteroid impacts, and Steve Prefontaine -- offering us multiple movies about each topic -- the Big Bastardized Theme of the year was an inexplicable one: Voodoo. In 1987-88, three major voodoo-themed movies came out, including Angel Heart, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and The Believers. Each was tackled by a major director, and none of them made a huge splash critically or commercially. In fact, they all made pretty much the same amount at the box office -- slightly under $20 million.

So put aside your quizzical concern over why Angel Heart merits a special edition DVD (Robert De Niro's performance alone is worth it), and dig back into this quirky project from yesteryear, when we were all scared to death that a cowrie shell or a chicken claw was going to cause bugs to start crawling out of our face. Angel Heart (based on the novel Fallen Angel) is a 1950s period piece and starts out simply enough: An eccentric, sharp-fingernailed man named Louis Cyphre (De Niro) hires private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) to track down a missing person with whom Cyphre has an old (and unhonored) contract. Rourke's investigation takes him into the seedy underbelly of New Orleans and the Louisiana swamp. Virtually every one Angel speaks to turns up dead within days, but he plows ahead anyway. In the end he hooks up with a young voodoo priestess (Lisa Bonet when she had a career), and, well, the whole thing gets a little kooky. It's hard to write much about the utlimate resolution of Angel Heart without giving too much away, but suffice it to say it's at once obvious and surprising, considering the very thinly-veiled dialogue and unsubtle imagery.

Director Alan Parker is on familiar turf here, but for a supernatural/paranormal thriller, Angel Heart feels awfully conventional on the whole. Performances are good but not great; Rourke is lots of fun, but Bonet comes across like a bubbleheaded sexpot with limited range. The period detail makes up for a lot of the film's off moments, too.

The new DVD includes partial commentary from Rourke (who apparently can't remember anything about the movie at all), an interview with Parker (and a full-length commentary from him), and a ton of voodoo-centric featurettes. Watch for these lattermost items when The Serpent and the Rainbow and The Believers come out on DVD.


Angel Heart Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 1987


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