Buster's Mal Heart
Early in Buster’s Mal Heart, Sarah Adina Smith’s writing and directing seem destined to join Into the Wild and 127 Hours in the modern pantheon of films about idealistic young men who escape society by turning to nature.
The figure in question is Jonah (Rami Malek, USA’s Mr. Robot), a graveyard shift hotel clerk in Montana with dreams of an independent life alongside his wife Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil, Netflix’s House of Cards) and daughter Roxy (Sukha Belle Potter) on their own tract of land.
Nowhere near achieving that goal, however, he lives in daily frustration, punching the clock in full corporate zombie mode and finding little peace under the roof of Marty’s acerbic mother Pauline (Lin Shaye).
And so, when a drifter calling himself The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) comes to the hotel’s front desk and starts filling Jonah’s head with pre-Y2K conspiracy theories and ways to exist outside the system, the burnt-out young adult is all ears — and ambiguous jumps to two vaguely connected arcs of a long-haired, long-bearded Jonah suggest he’s heeded the stranger’s words.
In scenes on a rowboat speaking Spanish to a higher power and the main latter-day section where he’s prowling the countryside, hopping between lavish vacant vacation homes and calling in to radio shows with his apocalyptic warnings — rants that earn him the name Buster — it appears that Jonah has achieved his vision to an extent, albeit without Marty and Roxy in tow.
Flashbacks are understandably required to fill in the blanks regarding how Jonah came to be where he is, but the longer Smith lingers in either of the three timeframes, the staler and more incongruous each becomes.
Along with narratively spinning its wheels around the halfway mark and never recovering, Buster’s Mal Heart also incorporates an odd blend of super high-quality exterior shots — that make the outdoors look more appealing than they have in a narrative film in some time — and uncomfortably amateurish visuals whenever scenes take place indoors.
Within these disjointed parameters, the indie darling cast can only shine so bright, and though some 11th hour revelations add new depth to the story and almost make one want to watch the film again with new eyes, they ultimately arrive too late to make much of a difference.
Grade: C-plus. Not rated, but with violence, adult themes and language. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Well Go USA Entertainment)