The opening and initial set up of Heartless is incredible. Sadly, it takes a wrong turn almost immediately afterward and slowly crawls its way deeper into a hole it can’t quite ever get out of. It’s not at all a terrible movie, but it’s the kind of movie that frustrates with how many good ideas it has that it’s unable to flesh out or capitalize on.
Jim Sturgess delivers another empathetic performance as Jamie Morgan – a young man whose self-confidence is completely wracked by a heart-shaped birth mark covering the side of his face. He learns that there’s a gang of demons wandering through London creating chaos, makes a Faustian pact with a sideburned Satan, and lives to regret the decision.
That synopsis is far more straightforward than the movie is. There’s a world opening up of Hellish creatures affecting the everyday news cycle by creating terror, a young man learning more about that world, and a psychological trip into finding love and family. Those are all great, but even the sickest twists and turns of the movie are plagued by the underlying structural problems. Scenes are delivered as being important without any previous set up. Decisions are made that profoundly affect the soul without much of any reason at all. The film tries to do too much and never focuses on the fantastic horror and religious/Satanic fantasy moments long enough to be satisfying.
The good news here is that writer/director Philip Ridley (known for The Reflecting Skin) is brimming with potential and great ideas. It’s clear, though, that those ideas need a filter of some sort and someone pulling back on the scope in order to fully explore the innovations.
Sturgess is as brilliant as usual, even when his character is committing to absurd decisions, and Clemence Poesy is subtle and as sweet as she is sensual as the newly attainable dream girl. Their relationship is a high point of the film, delivering something of meaning and an anchor for the rest of the stories that seem scattered and abandoned in the killing field of the rest of the movie.
It’s a shame that too many of those interesting ideas are shoved into the film only to be abandoned. Frank’s family life is one of the best story angles, but it gets tossed to the wayside and eventually explained away by exposition. The same goes for the demonic gang which is almost completely forgotten about and the young Indian girl sidekick/prisoner to Satan whose mysteriousness is rammed into the film as if a twist was necessary.
To pinpoint the problem, there’s also no internal consistency in the film. Without a solid piece of ground to hold onto, all of the plot changes seem like cheap tricks instead of clever pieces to a puzzle that will eventually become a clear picture.
Everyone involved possesses a high level of skill, and the ideas are fresh and incendiary, but that’s what makes it all the more frustrating that Heartless never fulfills the promise of a dynamite opening act.