New Orleans on film in honor of Killing Them Softly (3 of 5): Angel Heart

New Orleans on film in honor of Killing Them Softly (3 of 5): Angel Heart

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Killing Them Softly has us thinking of movies set in New Orleans.

Angel Heart (1987) 
In a 1996 appearance on Chicago’s public TV station, WTTW, Chicago film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum griped that he walked out of Evita halfway through because he was stuck in “Alan Parker Land,” and he didn’t want to be there. That sentiment could be accurately applied to many of Parker’s films, which tend to take viewers to disturbing spaces—particularly the discomfiting, lurid neo-noir Angel Heart. Mickey Rourke stars as a grubby private investigator hired by effete gentleman Robert De Niro to track down a missing person who reneged on some sort of contract. The trail leads Rourke from New York City to the seediest parts of New Orleans, from grungy French Quarter courtyards and run-down black-iron-balcony apartments to a violent voodoo ritual in the bayou. There’s plenty of local color in the form of a second-line parade and a gorgeous church that Parker renovated for the film; to the degree possible, Parker used existing buildings rather than sets, and real New Orleans environments, to give the film its grimy, humid, sweaty aesthetic.

That said, Angel Heart is still more a nightmarish fantasy than real-world thriller; the scene where Rourke and Lisa Bonet have sex in a room that rains blood became notorious, particularly given Bonet’s association with the family-friendly Cosby Show. Also notorious: the at-the-time shocking ending, which has since been echoed in a few too many films to retain its proper impact, and which abruptly changes the film’s genre. But while the film’s cultural cachet as a boundary-breaker has faded, it remains an intense, woozy, over-the-top visual and emotional experience, one that brings the noirs of the ’40s and ’50s into the realm of the 1980s’ stylish excess.

Availability: Widely available on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant, etc.