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A family man’s chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter leaves him on the run from the police and an impending event known as The Inversion.
Director: Sarah Adina Smith
Writer: Sarah Adina Smith
Stars: Rami Malek, DJ Qualls, Kate Lyn Sheil
Review by Gilbert Seah
If quirky films are your cup of tea, writer/director Sarah Adina Smith’s (MIDNIGHT SWIM) BUSTER’S MAL HEART has much to offer. The title is even strange – a mix between Spanish and English which translates to Buster’s Bad Heart because the film’s protagonist is Latino and that he is discovered to have a bad heart in the later part of the film.
The film is occasionally as confusing as the film is quirky, primarily because Smith does not take the route of a straight narrative. Her film opens with a troubled man sporting a full beard growth looking like a mountain hillbilly, nicknamed Buster by the media (Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek) on the run in the wilderness, hunted down by the local police. The film flashbacks to 5 days prior to explain the incidents leading to the state of affairs. But the film quickly jumps back in time to the present, so that the 5 days prior does not hold for more than 5 minutes or so. If one can forgive the confusion, Smith’s film is as intriguing as it is absorbing. Be forewarned that this is a mindf*** film, so be prepared for an open ending.
Buster is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows — where he has acquired the nickname “Buster” — to rant about the impending dangers of Y2K, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.
Smith also intercuts her film with Buster (Rami Malek) who was once Jonah, a hard-working husband and father whose job as the night-shift concierge at a hotel took its toll on his mood and, consequently, his marriage to the sensitive and long-suffering Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil).
Things are going well work and family-wise, until a chance encounter with a conspiracy-obsessed drifter (DJ Qualls) changes the course of his life forever. The drifter warns of Y2K and how he will benefit from the disaster. The audience already knows the nonsense from the false prophets as Y2K has passed with nothing happening with all it false prophets put to ridicule. But the drifter warns of an earth’s inversion. This is shown as inverted numbers as in clocks in hotel room numbers.
Smith’s film is full of polar opposites. Buster is at one point a family man and hotel clerk, neat, well-groomed and handsome. In the other, he is unkempt, bearded, untidy and ghastly. Butler can also be quiet, calm and calculated while angry and loud, screaming at the top of his voice in another scene. Actor Rami Malek is excellent in his role of Buster, able to convey different personalities. DJ Qualls is also impressive as the talkative drifter.
BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a strange film. There are unexplained segments like the one with Buster in a small rowboat in the middle of a vast ocean. Or an unexplained killing in the hotel room which the audience is supposed to deduce the culprit. Still, BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a carefully crafted film, nevertheless and should prove an intriguing experience.
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