I’ve never been a huge fan of Jim Sturgess (I’ve always felt that he’s a little overrated), and I’m not familiar with director Philip Ridley’s work. But Clémence Poésy and Eddie Marsan could get me to see anything. With those two lending their star power, and some really great buzz, Heartless seemed too interesting to resist.
Sturgess plays a quite introvert with an enormous birthmark over half his face, neck and shoulder named Jamie. His character, not the birthmark. He’s an amateur photographer and works at his brother’s studio. His dad died when he was young. He sticks to himself mostly, venturing out in to his east London neighborhood photographing weird-ass shit in the middle of the night. The atmosphere of east London is notoriously dark and dangerous with crime and gangs rampant. Strange stories start to show up on the tele about a gang wearing (or were they?) demon masks, that throw molotov cocktails at people, burning them alive. Jamie believes he witnessed one of these events in part. Then, the gang attacks him and his mother on the street, and he’s forced to watch his mother burn to death. In his grief, Jamie is led, through a string of strangely connected encounters to meet a bad-ass with a weird hand named Papa B (Joseph Mawle). Papa B explains the world needs chaos, that nature couldn’t do it all herself, and that he exists to assist. Papa B offers to make him beautiful in return for a little chaos. And the plot goes from there.
Ridley, who wrote the script as well, creates quite an eerie world. We’re meant to believe there is danger around every corner, and we really do. It’s difficult to understand why Jamie would make a deal with the man who killed his mother, but vanity and ego are very persuasive, and it’s watching these iufluences lead Jamie down a very dark path that make the film enthralling. At one point, a character makes reference to this new generation being one that has grown up watching beheadings on the internet, which makes them a very different breed indeed (shades of George A. Romero). Even though I’m rarely a good judge of talent, it’s clear Sturgess brought his A-game to the table. His performance was remarkable indeed.
Ridley relies a little too heavily on the dread of seeing a hand gun. Jamie is forced to buy one from his local convenience store clerk that’s hidden deep in a refrigerator. There’s always an implied sense of doom when the gun is involved which falls a little flatly on American viewers since they are so accepted and readily available here. There’s a little lost between this side of the pond, and Ridley’s, but Heartless is haunting, frequently creepy, mostly compelling, and always interesting film that is much better than the other fare we have in theatres this summer.