Film Review: “The Violent Heart”


Starring: Jovan Adepo, Grace Van Patten

Directed by: Kerem Sanga

Rating: Unrated

Running Time: 1 HR 47 MINS

Gravitas Ventures 

The brutal murder of a young woman leaves a family in agony and for her little brother, an intense anger that while growing up is a powder keg ready to explode at any given moment. “The Violent Heart” is a dark crime drama with a dose of young romance that keeps your attention from start to finish. With fresh, young actors who have talent to spare and some nice twists and turns, “The Violent Heart” provides some nice entertainment for an evening at home. 

A nine-year-old boy named Daniel watches his older sister load a suitcase into a strange car and get in before it speeds off down the road in the middle of the night. Concerned, Daniel sets out after them on his motorbike. He spots the car sitting vacant on the side of the road. After shutting off his bike, Daniel hears voices in the nearby woods. Through the darkness, Daniel follows the sounds until he sees his sister and a man standing in a clearing. A pair of shots soon ring out and Daniel’s sister is dead. 

Fifteen years later, his sister’s unsolved murder hovers like a dark cloud above his family. Daniel (Jovan Adepo, “Fences”) now works as a mechanic while helping to take care of his mother (Mary J. Blige) and younger brother. However, he still desires a life in the Marine Corps like his father. On one fateful day, 18-year-old high school senior Cassie (Grace Van Patten, “The Meyerowitz Stories”) drops off her father’s car to be serviced. There is an instant attraction and a romance soon blossoms between them. 

Unlike Daniel, Cassie is close with her father, Joseph (Lukas Haas, “Inception”), who is an English teacher at her school. This fact makes an affair she uncovers all that much more devastating for her, but it does her closer to Daniel who has his own newfound struggles to deal with. Ultimately, “The Violent Heart” shows that no matter how deep secrets are buried, they seem to always rise back up to the surface. 

Written and directed by Karem Sanga (“First Girl I Loved”), “The Violent Heart” has steady pacing throughout with a pair of nice lead performances by Adepo and Van Patten. Adepo demonstrates solid depth as he portrays someone who erroneously fears that his life will amount to nothing if he does not get into the military. 

The film’s weaknesses can be found in a lack of serious relationship development between the characters within Daniel and Cassie’s immediate families. Therefore, we feel a sense of disconnection which makes it hard to be truly impacted when crisis hits the families towards the third act of the film. It is particularly disappointing that Daniel’s career military father is omitted from almost the entire story. 

Overall, “The Violent Heart” is well worth your time.

Film Review ” A Most Violent Year”

Starring:  Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and Albert Brooks
Directed by:  J.C. Chandor
Rated: R
Running time:  2 hrs 5 mins

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

So many things happened in New York City in 1981.  Julia Stiles and Paris Hilton were born there that year.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, over 1,800 people were murdered.  And, on a personal note, I saw my first Broadway musical, “42nd Street,” when I was visiting the city on my way to Germany. It’s also the setting and time period for the new film written and directed by J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year.”

Abel Morales (Isaac) and his wife, Anna (Chastain) have built a good life for themselves.  With much hard work they have grown a small heating oil business into a mini-empire.  Which makes many of the other would be oil magnates angry.  Soon the Morales’ trucks are being hijacked, their drivers beaten. Compared to what is about to come down the pike, losing their inventory could be the best thing to happen to them.

More intense then violent, “A Most Violent Year” is a tightly written story carried along on the shoulders of its actors. Isaac plays Abel as an honorable man.  I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Abel was the brother killed by Cain and that you can’t spell Morales without “moral.”  Having just committed all of his savings as a deposit to the purchase of a new facility (if the deal does not go through he loses his money), Abel learns that the local D.A. is about to file charges against him for fraud – apparently the heating oil business is very shady. Couple that with the fact that one of his drivers, while being hijacked, pulled out an unregistered gun and traded shots with the bad guys.  Not too many banks like to take risks like that and Abel finds himself slowly drawn into a world he doesn’t want to be a part of.  Isaac’s performance brings to mind Al Pacino (both in choices and in appearance) in “The Godfather.”  On the opposite side you have Chastain’s Anna.  The daughter of a former wise guy, Anna is the tough one in the relationship, always staying one step ahead of the next search warrant.  It is as the couple slowly reverse roles that make the film entertaining.

Technically the film also delivers.  The period cars and clothing are spot on as are the shots of a much grittier and dirtier Big Apple.  Named the Best Picture of the Year by the National Board of Review, “A Most Violent Year” somehow avoided being nominated for anything Oscar-wise (I would gladly put Chastain in Laura Dern’s spot in the Supporting Actress race this year).  I don’t know if it’s the best film of the year but it’s certainly one of them.