Angel Heart differs from William Hjortsberg’s source material in many ways (the book plays out in New York, never going to New Orleans), but it keeps the rich and textured central conceit. Alan Parker had a great run in the 1980 and 1990s, starting with Birdy (or Fame before that) and taking things through to The Commitments in the 1990s (I can’t bring myself to extend it as far as Evita, but I know some would). He pulls double duty as screenwriter and director and he manages to full create a world which at once feels real, but also mysterious and cinematic.
Robert De Niro chews the scenery as Louis Cyphre, a mysterious businessman who hires Mickey Rourke’s New York gumshoe, Harry Angel to find the missing singer Johnny Favorite. Angel’s investigation takes him deep into the heart of New Orleans, where he meets Lisa Bonet’s Epiphany and falls into a world of jazz and voodoo. These combine to complicate the mystery as Angel struggles to try and uncover what actually happened to the elusive Johnny Favourite.
De Niro’s role is short but memorable – he’s as the important cog that gets the machine started – but Angel Heart is Mickey Rourke’s show. Rourke has never been better than he is here (he nudges this greatness with turns in Sin City and The Wrestler). He could have gone on to become the biggest star – and one of the great actors – of all time. Rourke feels like he’s the perfect combination of the greats (Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart and Bruce Wills spring to mind) but sadly it’s a career that was squandered when it was in its prime.
Angel Heart grossed $17.2 million at the US box office when it was released in 1987.