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Angel (aka Danny Boy)
Neil Jordan, best known for moody genre pieces like The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire, made his directorial debut with Angel (released stateside as Danny Boy) in 1982. The film half-successfully blends kitchen sink drama with pulpier elements, as it shows a fairly ordinary man pushed to his limits in a quest for revenge in Troubles-gripped Northern Ireland.
Jordan's frequent star, Stephen Rea, plays Danny, a saxophonist in a touring dance band. Danny is (somewhat facetiously) nicknamed the "Stan Getz of South Armagh" and clearly has chops that exceed his small-potatoes circumstances, but he lacks ambition. The first ten minutes of Angel seem to be setting us up for a Mike Leigh-type slice-of-life about this working class musician, stuck performing in middle-of-nowhere ballrooms. In the dressing room, he hits on the singer in his band, the amenable Deirdre (Honor Heffernan), and once he saunters onstage, he is lusted after by a mousy deaf-mute girl (Veronica Quilligan) and even a bride on her wedding night (Lise Ann McLaughlin). Clearly, we have an idea of where this is going.
But then, after the gig, some paramilitary guys (Catholic? Protestant? we're never explicitly told) show up at the ballroom with masks and guns. They murder the manager of Danny's band for making extortion payments to the other side, and they murder the deaf-mute girl for witnessing it. Danny saw it all too, but he stayed in the shadows.
Danny is driven to find the men who murdered the girl. Considering his only clue is that one of the gunmen wore an orthopedic shoe, he is absurdly successful. This vengeance-based plot development could have jerked the film fully into cartoony Death Wish territory -- especially once Danny picks up a bad guy's machine gun while snooping around and ends up using it -- but Jordan has a firm grip on Angel's melancholy, contemplative tone. There's no catharsis once Danny starts tracking down and offing bad guys, and there are no satisfactory answers as to why such a senseless killing had to happen: just more confusion and a kind of beaten-down ennui.
There's no comfort in an affair with Deirdre either. Though she tries to reach Danny and get him to open up emotionally, he holds on tightly to the trauma of seeing those people murdered and he keeps tight-lipped about his quest. Maybe it's by design, but unfortunately the scenes between these two characters never quite click dramatically, and their whole relationship is the film's dullest element.
Danny boards with his aunt Mae (Marie Kean), a pleasant old woman who used to tell fortunes until the cards all kept "turning up black;" though she waves it off by claiming she must have lost the knack, the film is clearly hinting that the country has fallen to ill fortune. It's no surprise when she lays out cards for Danny, and they are all black as well. Danny may find an answer at the end of this journey, but it's doubtful there's any redemption to go along with it.
My Left Foot's Ray McAnally has a memorable role as Bloom, a police detective who potentially suspects what Danny is up to but does not interfere. His motivations are a bit cryptic, but he clearly seems worn down by the decades of civil strife. He ruefully comments to Danny during an interview, "In case you're wondering, I'm Jewish." Danny deadpans in reply: "Are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?"
Angel has been released in a limited edition of 3000 copies. It is packaged with a color booklet that includes an essay by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.
Apart from a few specks here and there, the AVC-encoded 1080p 1.78:1 presentation is outstanding. Chris Menges's cinematography is a perfect blend of moments that subtly heighten reality and moments that go for outright stylization. Most daytime scenes, have a cool, gray appearance, while night scenes and ballroom interiors feature wild bursts of warmth and striking neon. The transfer handles the colors beautifully, with excellent fine detail and clarity. The film grain is present but not too chunky, and there are no discernible compression issues.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio boasts good clarity with no damage or distortion. No subtitles.
Just a TT standard-issue Isolated Music and Effects Track.
Angel sometimes fails to resonate as deeply as it could, and some of Neil Jordan's artier directorial decisions don't completely mesh with the overall earthiness of the film, but for the most part, it is a noteworthy debut that anticipates many of the director's more resounding triumphs to come. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. His new holiday single, Oh Hanukkah / Last Night of Hanukkah, is now available to stream or download on Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed.