Angel

  • Reviewed by: Jim Hemphill
  • Review Date: Nov 12, 2015
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Angel

Director

Neil Jordan

Release Date(s)

1982 (September 8, 2015)

Studio(s)

Channel Four Films/Triumph Films (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: N/A

Review

Neil Jordan’s Angel (1982) is one of the more remarkable debut films of its era, a movie like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat, Steve Kloves’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, or Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham, in which the talent of its writer-director seems to emerge fully formed right from the outset. Although Jordan would further develop the themes and styles of Angel in later gems like Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, and Michael Collins, the ideas and technique were all pretty much there at the beginning, and are well worth serious study for anyone who’s a fan of the director’s later, better known work. The plot is simple, but the execution is layered, complex, and ambiguous: Stephen Rea (soon to become a Jordan regular) plays Danny, an Irish saxophonist during the time of the “troubles” who witnesses a pair of murders and responds by turning to violence and vengeance. Although one of the victims was a deaf-mute girl Danny had only just met, she makes such an impression on him (as well as the audience) that his Death Wish-style killing spree feels completely motivated and logical – the only appropriate response to the senseless tragedy he has witnessed.

The difference between Angel and Death Wish, however, is that Danny’s violent response yields less emotional catharsis than it does more senseless tragedy; although we want him to avenge the deaths he has observed, the revenge doesn’t bring us or him any true satisfaction. Not in the conventional sense, anyway; in other, more poetic, visual, and allegorical ways, Angel is deeply satisfying. Stylistically it’s a truly unique blend of lyricism and brutal realism, with evocative, colorful nightlife scenes alternating with gritty set pieces of violence and anguish. The images are courtesy of the brilliant cinematographer Chris Menges, who would go on to win Oscars a couple of years later for his work on The Killing Fields and The Mission; his presence was a nice bit of luck for Jordan, who found the ideal collaborator to bring his dreamy but unflinching world view to life. Menges and Jordan’s images have a remarkable cumulative effect, sneaking up on the viewer in a subtle way in which we don’t even realize how the movie is working on us until its final devastating moments.

Angel is largely unknown in America, where it was released as Danny Boy to avoid confusion with the popular exploitation film that shared its original title – the movie took a couple years to get from Ireland to the States. That’s a shame, because it’s a real treasure: a synthesis of art film and genre movie conventions that is a truly one-of-a-kind personal statement. Thankfully, the movie’s reemergence on Blu-ray allows audiences to experience the film as it was made, in all its lush color and bleak naturalism. Twilight Time’s transfer is up to their usual high standards, with impeccable shadow detail and tonal range; the source print has an occasional mark or scratch, but nothing significant. The DTS-HD stereo mix is flawless, and adds to the dreamy effect of the film (music and effects are available as a separated isolate track as well). There are no special features, but film historian Julie Kirgo does supply an excellent booklet of liner notes that contextualizes Angel within Jordan’s career and deftly analyzes its considerable strengths. Angel may not be one of the most popular titles Twilight Time has added to its catalog recently, but it’s one of the most essential.

- Jim Hemphill

 

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