The Violent Heart
2021, NR, 108 min. Directed by Kerem Sanga. Starring Lukas Haas, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Cress Williams, Jovan Adepo, Grace Van Patten.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 19, 2021
Good melodrama has a whiff of prurience with a shimmer of moralizing. Bad melodrama is schlock that thinks it has something to say. The Violent Heart – a teetering pile of coincidences masquerading as a story – barely passes muster as even the latter.
Cassie (Van Patten, crippled by an atrocious script) is appalling, a spoiled middle class brat with daddy issues revolving around her belief that her father, who is also her English teacher (Haas), is having an affair with one of his fellow staff members. Daniel (Adepo, equally ill-served) is a bad boy with a heart of gold, traumatized by the murder of his sister 15 years ago. He's been in and out of trouble, but wants to straighten up and become a Marine. Cassie can see both sides of him, and likes them equally. His trauma becomes her motivation, which throws The Violent Heart so deeply into the "white savior" narrative that it can never recover. Not that, with all the other catastrophically bad and schlocky choices made along the way, it ever stood a chance.
Is it a plodding and outdated romance? Is it a clunky murder mystery? Is it a heavy-handed social drama about the challenges of a modern interracial relationship? It's all that an less. The Violent Heart starts off incredibly simplistic, and sort of insulting, only to become mindnumbingly inane, with a ridiculous twist. Normally, I'd consider noting that a third-act revelation even exists is too much information (if you're looking for a twist, it spoils that the twist exists), but the absurd retroactive justification of one character's lousy behavior throughout the film re-enforces an idiotic and antiquated trope - one that is drenched in ham-fisted, well-intentioned implicit racism. This film would, truly, have voted for Obama three times.
Cinematographer Ricardo Diaz (currently at work on the latest rev of the The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) almost saves the day with some flourishes of style: but unlike the equally-well-intentioned Brian Banks (which he also lensed), which was saved from mawkishness by style and performances, nothing can salvage the clumsy narrative. Any sparks between Adepo and Van Patten are smothered by the constant intrusion of the underlying whodunnit, and a stultifyingly tidy resolution is a jaw drop too far. Anodyne and asinine in equal measures, The Violent Heart is just brainless.
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