An addled man is seen at three different points of his life; alone on a dinghy, as a Montana mountain man, and as a husband and father.
Directed by Sarah Adina Smith
Starring Rami Malek
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Breaking out of this loop requires drastic action, and Jonah’s marooning in the middle of the ocean and his later squatting in Montana summer homes imply that he’s done just that. Smith, who also edited the film, effectively stresses his isolation and frustration with sharp transitions between scenes and patience within them. The former communicates the sameness of what happens between cuts while the latter shows how grating his domestic life is getting. A sneaking suspicion that Qualls’ character is not actually real takes ahold. Jonah’s big breakaway moment is a psychic dissociation, a blackout where he murders his wife and daughter in their beds and pins it on the nonexistent Qualls. Whether this ever dawns on Jonah is an open question, but he achieves the freedom he desires and heads out to uncharted territory.
A journey into the mind of a mentally ill, unreliable narrator always contains the moment of realization. Patrick Bateman can’t verify what he’s actually been doing, Nina Sayer dances the black swan, Edward Norton uncovers what he’s been doing as Tyler Durden. What makes Buster’s Mal Heart different from these and others is that we spend a lot of time with Jonah after his misdeeds thanks to the broken narrative, except we don’t know what he’s done until the film is almost over. This reframes everything that isn’t prior to, repeat, his murdering of his family. Smith asks a lot of her audience by making them sympathize with a child killer. He’s that, and he’s a relatively harmless crank of a mountain man, but we’re introduced to the latter first. This is an exercise in viewer sympathy before it’s a vehicle for economic alienation, placing structure and experiment before theme, which isn’t how I like that order to go. The twist in Buster’s Mal Heart makes it worse, a dark joke where the punchline is the viewer chuckling at a man who stabbed his daughter.
Buster’s Mal Heart makes one feel queasy and uncertain of its utility, but that’s no slander towards Malek. He is one of those actors who only looks like himself, and is therefore compelling in anything he does. That’s true in small parts like The Master, and it’s true here when he’s on camera for almost every frame, pooping pots and scooping pizza slices out of swimming pools. Malek is simply watchable. When I’m faltering on Buster’s Mal Heart and where it goes, he brings me back to the film. As a Rami Malek delivery system, Buster’s Mal Heart is most successful. Now off to Target to price deeply discounted Blu Rays. C+