Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro have both had hugely long and critically acclaimed carers. Audiences of every age will recognise them in standout films across the ages from Taxi Driver to 9½ Weeks, Goodfellas to Sin City, Heat to The Wrestler, Joker to Iron Man 2. However two of their best performances can be found from them working together in the 1987 horror Angel Heart.
Blending a neo-noir murder mystery with black magic and Satanism director Alan Parker, surprisingly best known for musicals Bugsy Malone and The Commitments, also adapted the screenplay from William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel crafting a foreboding film that once watched is hard to forget.
Set in 1955 our anti-hero is Harry Angel (Rourke) a risk adverse private detective with a phobia of chickens and a nose for finding people. Called upon to do just that by the mysterious Louis Cyphre (De Niro) he starts to trail missing crooner Johnny Favorite who has escaped a hospital he had been staying in for some time.
Led on a dark dance from the dirty streets of New York to the Voodoo infused backwaters of New Orleans he slowly uncovers a story of sex, murder, racism, blood rituals, evil spells and more where everyone involved is both a suspect and a target. When the bodies start to fall Angel gets the blame and he realises he must find Favorite before it’s too late.
Gripping throughout Angel Heart keeps the audience engaged from is stark opening where a dog finds a body in the snow to its chaotic climax where Angel and Cyphre finally face off with the whole film drenched in a sense of dread that never lets up.
Religion in many forms is everywhere in Angel Heart from the money driven African American church Cyphre operates out of to the eerie Catholic Church filled with biblical iconography to the ancient pagan rituals performed by the voodoo worshiping locals where blood sacrifice and possession are as everyday as saying mass.
The performances are excellent especially from Rourke and De Niro who play diametric characters not only to each other but also many of their previous roles. As Cyphre De Niro is sinister and menacing even when he is exchanging pleasantries and the innate power he holds on the situation and all around him is obvious from the off.
As Angel Rourke is an unlikely hero looking the part at first but becoming more unsure and unstable as he discovers the tangled web he has become caught up in. With brutal slayings taking place all around and the evidence against him mounting he does everything he can to avoid accusation but the more he struggles the harder it is for him to escape his inevitable end.
Alongside the paring are turns from Charlotte Rampling as an unfortunate fortune teller and a young Lisa Bonet who has links to Johnny Favorite and dark spiritualism that Angel does not expect. Her uninhibited and unusual performance sparked controversy at the time seeing as she was still in The Crosby Show a fact that seems strange now knowing what Bill Crosby was up to throughout his career.
With echoes of Chinatown this dark detective movie moves the viewer into a shadow world where morality is meaningless and the base desires of humanity take over. A brilliant portrayal of evil, what people will do for power and the damage that does, Angel Heart is a masterful movie hiding far more under the surface than many may expect.