I was always kind of aware of Road To Paloma as ‘that biker flick passion project that Jason Momoa directed and stared in but didn’t really make a big splash’ so I never really got around to it until now. Well I think that there’s a reason it didn’t make a big splash, as it’s far more of a meditative, almost spiritual picture than any sort of action thriller type thing, an esoteric, atmospheric portrait of one Native American man meandering the southwest on the run from both the law and his past. But it’s a fantastic film, one that shows Momoa as a true visual poet in command of every frame, giving his story a loose, elegiac aura that’s not always so easy to capture authentically. He plays Robert Wolf, an indigenous wanderer who has a nasty, predatory federal agent (Timothy V. Murphy) on his tail at the behest of a gruff FBI section chief (the briefest of cameos from Lance Henriksen), guided by a conflicted sheriff (Chris Browning). That sounds like the setup for something fast paced and thrilling, but such is thankfully not really the case. There are some scenes of action and pursuit but most of the film is Wolf and his rambunctious buddy Cash (Robert Homer Mollohan) rambling from place to place on their bikes and carving out a path through the gorgeous, rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains and desolate plains below. They visit Robert’s friends and family, participate in a junkyard fight club for cash, hang out, drink, ponder existence and the unjust system that led to their predicament and really just… live. Many people have said this film is ‘dull’ and ‘nothing happens’ but I guess those people need constant gun battles and car chases pumped into them from an IV. If they slowed down to think a bit they’d see this film is anything but dull or nothing, it’s a heartbreaking, honest look at one man running from injustice after avenging the death of a loved one, and naturally being part of an indigenous tribe, he and his family experience the full weight of the racism, hate and evil that has bred in the area since time immemorial. Wolf feels less like martyr here and more like myth, a totem of the swiftly shrinking freedom human beings have in any given era or area, and a deliberate force of nature who lives moment to moment in utter clarity, possessive of an elemental restlessness that sees him never tarry in one space for long. He meets others including his tribal police chief father (the great Wes Studi), his sister (Sarah Shani) who has married an old friend of his (Michael Raymond-James), briefly entering and re-entering their lives before hitting the road again. He also meets a mysterious stranded girl called Magdalena, played by his real life wife Lisa Bonet. The two have a brief romantic encounter here that’s sweet, haunting, supported by their genuine love and chemistry and adds a heartfelt dynamic to Wolf’s story, even just for a few quick scenes. The story may be lilting and free form, simply a brief, tragic and melancholy glimpse into the life of a man who has spent most of it on the road, and is now nearing the end of it. But in that lyrical, shifting-sand narrative there’s a profundity and aching soul, a need to tell the story of great injustice and corruption, however far you need to read, and feel, between the lines. Great film.
No other film has the seething elemental power of Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, a detective story propelled by a murder mystery, all the while cradled in the sweaty, unnerving blanket of a satanic horror story. Get the extended unrated cut if you can, as it cheerfully amps up both the queasy gore and kinky sex in spades. The time is postwar 1940’s, the setting New York, or at first anyways. Shabby private detective Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is hired by sinister clandestine gentleman Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) to find a missing lounge crooner named Johnny Favourite, for nasty reasons shrouded in thinly veiled threats. Harry is stalled at every turn, kept just out of the loop on every plot twist and soon seems to be a magnet for violence, troubling hallucinations and all the eerie hallmarks of a case he should have stayed far away from. The grisly clues lead him from Brooklyn to the smoky ghettos of Harlem, then south to voodoo soaked swamps of Louisiana and beyond, chasing illusory information and feeling more like the hunted than the hunter with each step. The film feels at times like a shrinking steel cage of unease and dread, a trap that closes in on both Harry and the viewer until the soul crushing revelations of the final act have been laid bare. This is hands down the best work Rourke has ever done, and it’s priceless listening to him try and to downplay it on the DVD commentary, classic ice cool Mickey. De Niro is the kind of quietly dangerous that leaves a deadly vacuum in the air of each scene, underplaying evil expertly and laying down more mystic mood by simply peeling a boiled egg than most actors could with a twenty page monologue. Ex Cosby Show darling Lisa Bonet sauces up her image here as a Bayou voodoo princess with ties to the mystery, and the steamy, no holds barred sex romp she has with Rourke has since become the stuff of legend, a feverish cascade of blood and other bodily fluid that almost gave the MPAA a coronary. The one area this film excels at most is atmosphere; there’s something intangibly wild about everything we see, hear and feel on Harry’s journey, from the supernatural tinged, noirish hues of Michael Seresin’s cinematography to the haunted, hollow tones of Trevor Jones’s baroque, restless original score, everything contributes to forging a world in which we feel enveloped in and can’t quite shake after, like a bad dream that creeps out into waking life for a while after the night. Angel Heart is a horror classic, a blood red gem amongst genre fare and one in an elite group of films that are pretty much as close to perfect as can be.
A nightmarish fever dream of despair, discovery, and darkness is what makes Alan Parker’s ANGEL HEART one of the very best films of the 1980’s. Featuring a greasy and tobacco stained Mickey Rourke, a fresh and innocent Lisa Bonet, and Robert De Niro in one of his most underrated and undervalued performances.
The brutal violence and horrifying imagery of Rourke’s downward spiral are made up of this harmoniously tranquil aesthetic that makes the film even more terrifying and unnerving. At times, the film almost challenges its viewer to look away from the screen, but it knows you cannot because you’ve become so enamored with the richly lathered story that quickly unfolds.
Rourke gives one of his finest, if not best performance as the amoral and skeevy private investigator who doesn’t have any limitations of what he’ll do for a paycheck. As his story arc comes to a close, Rourke transforms his character into a man who’s conflict gains nothing but sympathy from the viewer.
De Niro gives a brilliant and subtle turn as a man who is so powerful and dangerous his very presence in the film leaves you feeling violated. De Niro has often been hailed for his award-winning performances, but this role deserves as much attention and acclaim if not more.
Director Alan Parker is almost an unsung hero as a filmmaker. He’s made countless films throughout an array of genres, never allowing himself to become beholden to any of them. His films are topical, emotional, and more times than not unique pictures that find their way into your consciousness and are rarely forgotten. ANGEL HEART is a film that few have seen but no one will ever forget.