Friday, December 23, 2011

Film Pairing — Hard Boiled Private Eyes

Standard American private eye requirements: Down and out, hard drinker, personal demons, undisciplined pursuit of the truth. Unexpected nobility of purpose, maybe. Meet John Rosow of The Missing Person and Harry Angel of Angel Heart. They both meet the requirements. There are other similarities in the films. Both private detectives are hired by mysterious clients to deal with missing people. And, as each film develops, it becomes clear that they might not want to do what they were hired to do.

The Missing Person (2009), starring a rock-faced Michael Shannon as a dissolute P.I., is a stunningly moody, artful film, heavy on style, but pretty damn good on content as well. A man, too strung out to even consider killing himself, takes a case that seems both easy and rewarding. All he has to do is follow a man on a train and report what he sees. The simple assignment gets more complicated as you would expect. What these complications include are a fascinating 9-11 connection and an important philosophical question. In the end the cynical P.I. must make decisions that calls upon a sense of right and wrong. Is he up to the task? I’m not sure where this film came from, or where Michael Shannon has been all these years for that matter. With very little exposure, the film and the actor nonetheless gather praise whenever they are noticed and rightfully so.

There is a philosophical turn in the second feature as well. But Angel Heart (1987) is infinitely more visceral and heavy handed. In light of Mickey Rourke’s considerable talent as revealed in his recent performances, The Wrestler for example, we might want to take a look at just how good he was early in his career. And he was. This is Mickey Rourke before whatever happened to him mid-career happened to him. As a scruffy and apparently not too successful P.I., Harry Angel is made a financial offer he can’t refuse though, in fact, his instincts tell him to refuse it. We move from New York to New Orleans, where the P.I. tries to find a missing person and where, it seems, at each turn there is a bloody corpse. It becomes clear to Angel that he is, in the eyes of the Big Easy’s homicide cops, the most likely suspect in each murder. His client, played by Robert De Niro, is obviously holding out on his young hire, and the Louisiana’s mysterious connections to voodoo makes Harry’s life an increasingly terrifying experience. Lisa Bonet (No Cosby kid here) provides enough steamy (and brutal) sexual energy to send a rocket to Mars. The film was based on the novel Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg.

If you drink — and Michael Shannon’s early scenes might put you off the sauce forever — the mood set by both these films calls for whiskey on the rocks, or some form of hard liquor. No Chardonnay. And if you’re inclined toward something non-alcoholic, water for example, at least make it unfiltered. No fancy bottled stuff.


Anonymous said...

I love these two films. Great piece! I met Michael Shannon and The Missing Person writer director Noah Buschel in Red Hook one night at Sunny's Bar. I had a beer with them. They were very sweet guys. Could not have been cooler.

Ronald Tierney said...

Thanks. The Missing Person is one of those jewels that slipped by almost undiscovered. I suspect it will be watched for years to come.