Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 11, 2017)
When a movie’s trailer claims it comes from a “visionary” filmmaker, that sets up big shoes for the film to fill. This led me to see if 2017’s Buster’s Mal Heart managed to provide something worthwhile that would stand out from the pack.
Set in the 1990s, a married father named Jonah (Rami Malek) works the night shift at a hotel. One day he meets Brown (DJ Qualls), a drifter who focuses on conspiracy theories.
Brown tells Jonah of an impending calamity called “The Inversion” – one tied to Y2K - and this sets Jonah down a different path. He retreats from his family and society to become an isolated “mountain man” known as “Buster”, all while he copes with his change in fortunes and his fears of the future.
While I always like to hear audio commentaries for movies, I crave these discussions for some films more than others. Heart offers an effort that really could’ve used a commentary.
I say this not because the movie confused me – I say this because I’d love to know how much US politics impacted it. Given that Heart debuted at festivals in the fall of 2016, it exists on the cusp of “Trump’s America”, so it could’ve been created during to his rise through the Republican ranks or it could predate those events.
Although the story takes place in 1999, I find it difficult to view Jonah/Buster as anything other than a representative of the stereotypical angry/disaffected Trump supporter. Granted, the movie paints him in a more complex way than this comment implies, but he still feels like a representative of the Trump “movement”.
Whatever that case may be, Heart creates an intriguing take on its subject, albeit one that wears its influences on its sleeve. We can easily see a strong connection to Donnie Darko, and I get a clear The Shining vibe as well. Throw in the obvious Biblical allusions related to Jonah’s name and the film often flaunts its inspirations.
These threaten to become a little too dominant, but Heart still makes its own name for itself, and a non-linear narrative helps. We visit Jonah/Buster at various points of his life without the usual straight-ahead orientation, and this works well.
The plot pursuit never suffers from confusion, and the film manages to spell out the different areas in a concise, involving manner. Heart does come with a few oddly trite story choices but it still mostly stays on the right side of the ledger.
An excellent lead performance from Malek also benefits the film. He takes us through Jonah’s descent into semi-madness without obvious affections, so he manages to form a convincing personality who feels believable. Malek becomes arguably the best thing about the movie.
Does Heart make me view its creator as “visionary”? No, but it still manages to offer a pretty intriguing tale. Even with some flaws, it mostly achieves its goals.