[box cover]

Angel Heart: Special Edition

One year before desecrating the civil rights movement in the wretched Mississippi Burning (1988), director Alan Parker set his sights somewhat lower with the gothic noir Angel Heart, electing instead to befoul a ripening "Cosby Show" kid, Lisa Bonet — which, in 1987, was akin to running over a nun. If that's not enough, the film's already sure-to-be scandalous profile got a boost when the MPAA slapped it with an "X" rating for a blood-soaked sex scene involving the eldest Huxtable girl and the scuzziest man on earth, Mickey Rourke, who was hot off of Adrian Lyne's glossy sensual odyssey, 9-1/2 Weeks. This brouhaha was not only a boon of free publicity, but it also proved a helluva misdirection away from the picture's telegraphed surprise ending, which tricked viewers into believing they'd just witnessed something titillating and profound. A repeat viewing effectively negates the latter sentiment (bereft of the looming twist, there's not enough substance to hold one's interest), but there's little denying that Parker's hard-boiled detective yarn works well enough on its initial viewing to recommend it to fans of the genre. Rourke plays Harry ("Harold") Angel, a beat-down Gotham gumshoe enlisted by the mysterious Louis Cyphre (a delectably sinister Robert De Niro) to track down an on-the-lam crooner named Johnny Favorite. Angel's investigation takes him from the despairing ghettos of Harlem to a sweaty, segregated New Orleans, where the private dick is soon contending with racist cops, superstitious blues musicians, and voodoo curses. And while Favorite continues to prove elusive, Angel does encounter the singer's illegitimate child, the unsubtly dubbed Epiphany Proudfoot (Bonet). Cinematographer Michael Seresin, a longtime Parker collaborator, conjures up an unsettlingly doomed atmosphere that compares favorably to the genre's most iconic efforts, while Rourke's weariness is a perfect fit for the spiritually deadened Angel. Unfortunately, Parker, who based his screenplay rather loosely on a William Hjortsberg novel, is more concerned with theme than storytelling, resulting in a narrative that too often plods when it needs to be slathering on the twists; thus, giving the audience ample opportunity to work out his big perception-shift. There's also Parker's distressingly routine stereotyping of the deep south (for further denigrating, see Mississippi Burning and the even more abysmal The Life of David Gale), which is, at the very least, unprejudiced in its caricaturizing. While it's undeniable that the New Orleans's voodoo subculture influenced classic blues musicians, Parker's exotic treatment of it here recalls the patronizing tone of an old, insensitive chestnut like The Emperor Jones (1933). Still, the picture gets by on the strength of its pervasively spooky atmosphere and a terrific star turn by Rourke. Lions Gate presents Angel Heart: Special Edition in a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with serviceable Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary with Parker, as well as a new interview and very brief (i.e. pointless) film introduction by the director. The real find here is a candid interview and scene-specific (sort of) commentary with Rourke, who sheepishly admits to merely "showing up" for this film — which, if true, only adds to his legend as a naturally gifted actor, since his Harry Angel is a fairly textured creation. Also on board are five featurettes shot exclusively for this DVD, "Vodoun Truths," which serves as a primer on the real life practice of voodoo, and a collection of vintage behind-the-scenes docs that offer little real insight into the production. There are two theatrical trailers, but they are for Lions Gate releases Godsend and The Punisher. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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