November 15, 2013
Angel Heart (1987)
Grade: 73/100

Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Lisa Bonet, Robert De Niro

What it's about. Set in 1955. Hardbitten Brooklyn private eye Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by eccentric but wealthy Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to locate a missing person: once-famous pop singer Johnny Favorite.

Angel's search begins at the mental hospital where Favorite was last seen, back in 1943. Favorite's physician is dope addict Fowler (Michael Higgins), who manages to give Angel a few clues before he is shot.

Angel ends up in rural Louisiana where voodoo runs rampant. He interrogates elderly black guitarist Toots Sweet (Brownie McGhee), suspicious palm reader Margaret Krusemark (Charlotte Rampling), her loquacious and portly father (Stocker Fontelieu), and Favorite's hottie orphaned daughter Ephiphany ("Cosby" kid Lisa Bonet), all of whom end up brutally murdered with evidence pointing to Harry Angel as the murderer. Opinionated Louisiana flatfoot Eliot Keener is on the case.

Meanwhile, Angel is haunted by scenes from the past that suggest the whereabouts of Johnny Favorite is closer to home than he would like to believe.

How others will see it. Angel Heart drew generally favorable reviews but was ignored by the festival circuit except for the Saturn Awards, which bestowed three nominations though denying Rourke a Best Actor nod. The movie broke even at the box office but has undoubtedly performed well in video sales and rentals.

Today at, the pre-internet film has a highly respectable 50K user votes and a solid, consistent user rating of 7.3. Since the film qualifies in both the mystery and horror genres it has a double potential audience. But the film has greatest appeal to cynics everywhere, the kind of people who enjoy seeing Satan come out on top, in a movie if not in real life.

One famous person who definitely did not like the film was Lisa Bonet's television dad, Bill Cosby. He appears to have confused his role with actual parentage of Bonet, whose character in the present film is exceptionally naughty. In any event, Angel Heart is vastly superior to Leonard Part 6, the dismal Cosby "comedy" that came out the same year.

How I felt about it. The story appears muddled upon first viewing. It makes more sense the second time through. It becomes straightforward: the Devil uses Johnny Favorite, via his alter ego Harry Angel, to get his revenge on all of those who tried to cheat him out of Favorite's soul. The ultimate revenge is on Favorite himself, set up to fry in Louisiana's electric chair.

You might think that the Devil has more important things to do than to punish a handful of voodoo worshippers. You might even believe he would like those sort of people, since they are the antithesis of Christians. But it appears that Satan simply enjoys messing with bad people, epitomized by his smirk while weakly protesting Harry Angel's blasphemy in a church. Perhaps sinners are the only ones that the Devil is allowed to punish.

There is some strange behavior in this film. When Harry Angel returns to his rent house where Ephiphany lies dead, the cop asks questions almost disinterestedly. Why did you return? Who is she? What he doesn't do is cuff this extremely dangerous mass murderer.

Also odd is Epiphany showing up at Angel's digs. Does she have a thing for middle-aged white male murder suspects? Another strange episode has Krusemark's father (who must know by then that his daughter has been murdered) casually discussing his witness of the murder of the real Harry Angel. Which would make him an accessory to murder.