Film Review: Angel Heart

Alan Parker’s neo-noir thriller Angel Heart is rightly considered a classic. Parker’s nightmarish vision is just as indelible over thirty years later.

Private investigator Harry Angel is hired by a man to track down a singer who owes him a debt from years ago. Angel starts tracking down leads, before the investigation takes a dark turn…

Angel Heart’s noir premise is straightforward enough; a private detective on a case to track down an individual. Nothing is as simple as it seems however, as the case leads him to travel far and wide to chase down any viable lead. Viewers suspicions are raised from the beginning, with his mysterious client. The picture features a film noir set up, which gets increasingly darker as narrative progresses. 

Set in 1955, Angel Heart has hallmarks of a noir mystery. The dialogue is very much in keeping with the genre. Angel’s exchange with Dr Fowler feels like it is could be straight out of a classic-era noir. There some great lines and turns of phrase used in the film. Based on William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel, writer-director Alan Parker’s screenplay keeps the audience hooked with its well-developed turns. Parker imbues the film with a sense of mystery that only increases as the story advances. 

The setting of the film envelopes viewers. There is an otherworldly atmosphere that permeates Angel Heart. The hidden underside of the big city feels like it is brimming to the surface more and more as the narrative progresses. Attention to detail in the film is great: the styling of Cyphre, Angel’s dishevelled look, the 1955 period aspects such as the identity cards. Production design is noteworthy, with some distinctive looks such as Margaret’s salon. 

Sound works very effectively to build tension. The pulsating heartbeat is a good effect, whilst the sudden cessation of sound is startling in the film’s climax. Grisly images add to the sense of horror, with the shock of the first body conveyed with a gory close up. Close ups and reactions shots are used efficiently throughout the film. The rapid cutting of the voodoo artefacts is a successful conveyance of descent into horror. Furthermore, the cross-cutting between Angel discovering the body and the tap-dancing outside really amps up the horror. A long shot of the beach conversation is striking. The use of light and shadow very atmospheric in key sequences. 

Casting in Angel Heart is great overall, but particularly with lead Mickey Rourke as Angel. Rourke delivers a strong central performance, inhabiting the role of the jaded investigator. Robert De Niro is as believable as ever as Cyphre. His delivery really helps to heighten the character. Meanwhile, Lisa Bonet is memorable as Epiphany. 

With its horror crescendo of a conclusion, Angel Heart truly is a fantastic noir mystery. The film is atmospheric, curious, and engrossing. 

The Alan Parker approved 4K restoration of Angel Heart is released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 14th October 2019.

Film Review: The Expendables

If you like your storyline thin and your body count high, The Expendables is the most enjoyable straightforward action film of the year.

A group of mercenaries led by Barney Ross are offered an assignment to assassinate the dictator of a small island is South America. When they arrive, things aren’t exactly what they seem, and the group faces a highly perilous mission…

Sylvester Stallone directs, co-writes and stars in this big-budget action spectacle. He has assembled some of the best-known action stars from the last few decades, including cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This works well; there is a real sense of camaraderie, as well as the obligatory in-jokes.

The plot is light, but then that’s not really the attraction of The Expendables. The main draw is seeing all these action stars – Mickey Rourke, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and others – together on the big screen. Coupled with this are the large-scale action scenes and the graphic fights.

The Expendables harks back to the testosterone-fuelled action films of the 1980s, through not only the casting but also the style. This is by no means a bad thing; after numerous action films attempting to combine a bit of everything it makes a change to see a film so unequivocally action-focused. Most importantly, the film is executed well enough to entice a range of cinemagoers; it is not just the action film devotees who will enjoy it.

The pyrotechnics and stunts are commendable, although there is one effect used in the film that looks a little unrealistic. The soundtrack matches the bravura nature of the visuals. The Expendables builds pace, combining action scenes with more dialogue-laden ones, until the frenetic finale. It is Mickey Rourke’s character who provides the only real depth to proceedings; but then again this film isn’t an emotional drama.

Overall, The Expendables is a highly enjoyable film, and a welcome return of the no-nonsense, unrelentingly violent, unabashedly masculine action film.

Film Review: Iron Man 2

Suspend your disbelief (as is called for by all comic book films), and Iron Man 2 is a thoroughly enjoyable film. Make no mistake, however, as sequels go, Iron Man 2 is no Dark Knight.

Following on from Iron Man, the sequel focuses on Tony Stark as he faces a new nemesis in the form Ivan Vanko. Coupled with this is the issues the protagonist faces in his personal life, particularly with his health…

Iron Man 2 is very much a typical comic book film sequel, albeit a good one. Themes from the first film are carried through, characters gain more depth, and the narrative is built to an exciting climax. However, in one sense, it is very much like the first film; new characters are introduced and obstacles are generated to form an archetypal narrative arc. In this way it differs from The Dark Knight Iron Man 2 lacks the depth and creativity of Nolan’s Batman sequel.

Most of the genre’s sequels concentrate on the story of the villain, whilst also developing the motives and trials of the superhero. The origins of the hero are inevitably covered in the first film, thus the back story element must be fulfilled by another character. Iron Man 2 follows this lead, as we are almost immediately introduced to Ivan Ranko. The film bucks the trend somewhat by later sidelining this character and firmly focusing on the hero. Tony Stark is in many ways the antithesis to Bruce Wayne; outrageous and arrogant, he revels in his superstar/superhero status.

Robert Downey Jr. once again gives a charismatic performance as Tony Stark – one of the highlights of the film. Mickey Rourke is suitably cast as antagonist Ivan Ranko, offering just the right level of over-the-top-ness required for the role. Scarlet Johansson is slightly more enigmatic as Natalie Rushman; it is unclear whether her slightly stilted performance is intentional, or due to the actresses’ limited range.

Kudos to Jon Favreau for directing an entertaining action film. The special effects are excellent, and the action scenes are what fans have come to expect from the big-budget genre. A welcome addition comes in the form of the AC/DC soundtrack, providing the perfect accompaniment to the high-octane visuals.

There is no doubt that Iron Man 2 will do good business. A third film seems inevitable, however like this sequel, it is unlikely to match the critical acclaim enjoyed by the original.