Buster’s Mal Heart Review
Buster’s Mal Heart (2017) Film Review from the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival, a movie directed by Sarah Adina Smith and starring Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil, Lin Shaye, Toby Huss, and Mark Kelly.
There have been a fair share of feature films which explores the inner dwellings of our subconscious, which becomes weird for some viewers to handle because of the unreliable narrative of the main character. Buster’s Mal Heart happens to deal with that and ends up being so intriguing thanks to director Sarah Adina Smith and Rami Malek. The indie thriller keeps itself raw while offering an odd sense of humor along the way.
We start the film with Rami Malek’s character as he is being chased in the mountains by rangers, Hiding inside a cave, the authorities try to draw him out as he is already cornered with no options left. The locals name this man as Buster, a reclusive mountain man who has evaded the law for years and has become more of an urban legend. Before he was found by the cops, we see Buster in a ragged homeless-type attire as he invades a few houses in the mountains and makes himself at home. We also find him in a similar situation isolated on a raft in the middle of the ocean without any food. The mystery of why we are seeing two different scenes becomes abundantly clear towards the end of the film.
In order to figure out what’s going on, we go further back to another version of Rami’s character where he’s working the night shift at a bleak motel. In this timeline, his name is Jonah, a family man living with his beautiful wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and their daughter Roxy. With Jonah on a limited budget, he works at a graveyard shift with an irritating boss in order to provide for his family. However, it requires him to spend less with his family than he would like. One night, a mysterious stranger (DJ Qualls) appears at the motel looking to book a room. He strikes up a conversation with Jonah as the two plan to rob money from other tenants. Jonah doesn’t seem to trust this man and finds him a bit suspicious after hearing his convoluted story of being on the run from the government after finding out that the world is about to change.
This subplot is part of a complex tale that is the center of Smith’s film, which relies heavily on non-linear narration by going back and forth between Buster and Jonah’s story. Smith also edits the piece with grace and fluidity, making viewers think how all these scenes fit together in this complicated tale.
Malek brings a similar vibe to his character from Mr. Robot on the big screen. Jonah plays off as a character in the same veins as Rami’s TV role of Elliot becoming this silent type but impresses us with a powerful and emotional performance in one of his scenes with Kate. There are also some hilarious moments with him in his scenes as Jonah where we see him crashing in these abandoned homes up in the snowy mountains. We even find Jonah in a similar state like DJ Quall’s character where he speaks the same words as him regarding the end of the world as we know it.
The film does look a little dull with it’s choice in color tones despite this being a low-budgeted project. Sometimes the unreliable storytelling can be a disadvantage for the movie. We don’t know clearly if Buster being on a boat is a something out of his imagination or if it’s all very real. We don’t even know when he ends up losing his mind. We don’t see the big moment where Jonah’s mind slips, but we do know that his stress at work, family, and his lack of sleep has led to him losing control.
One of the few twists that we struggle with happens towards the end when he is cornered with no way out. After keeping an elderly couple hostage when he finds them in one of the homes he’s invaded, he is quickly discovered, leading him to the cave where we find him in the beginning of the film. However, the conclusion leaves many unanswered questions. If one would view through this film again, maybe it would all make sense but it will be difficult to sit through the whole thing.
Buster’s Mal Heart isn’t a film that would appeal to the masses, since it’s a weird and often confusing. It does show a unique method of storytelling that stays with you because of Malek’s gripping performance. We don’t get the answers that we are looking for, but it gives a magical solution to the problem. It leaves you scratching your head in a good way. Some may find the film interesting to see and not become offensive.
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