April 19, 2011

Heartless (2009)

Directed and Written by Philip Ridley. Starring Jim Sturgess ("Jamie"), Clémence Poésy ("Tia"), Noel Clarke ("A.J."), and Joseph Mawle ("Papa B"). Unrated. Body Count: 5. Boob Count: 0.

Source: Region 1 DVD (MPI Media Group)
Run time: 01:53:50
Country: UK

HEARTLESS is a "Faustian tale" in which someone makes a deal with the devil for selfish reasons, hoping to either advance in a particular field, acquire something thought to be unattainable, or that whatever problems they have will go away and everything will be fine. Of course, anyone familiar with any story that involves making a deal with the devil knows that things don't exactly turn out for the best. I won't say it's not the case with this particular film, but luckily it succeeds in presenting such a story because it focuses less on the irony of the situation and more on the theory that one needs to be shaken up in order to "truly feel alive" and appreciate what one has.

The lead character, Jamie (Jim Sturgess), is a young photographer with a good head on his shoulders despite being from the bad streets of London. He lives his life in shame, however, because of large birthmarks that cover parts of his face and body. Due to tragic circumstances, he finds himself in a situation where he has nothing to lose, and the events bring him closer to a supernatural being known as Papa B (Joseph Mawle); the "B" standing obviously for... well, you should know what it stands for. In exchange for the happiness he desires, the girl he longs for, and the liberation from being looked upon as somewhat of a freak (although most of it is only in his head and stems from his lack of self-confidence), he agrees to be a bringer of chaos for the devilish character, but on a lesser scale that wouldn't necessarily make him a footsoldier or compromise what little morals he still has left.

I sought this movie out primarily because it stars Clémence Poésy from the excellent 127 HOURS and the also-excellent IN BRUGES. In the film, she plays a model named Tia - the young woman who Jamie fancies. So, going into it with little to no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. It succeeds on many levels as both a supernatural and psychological horror film without being too much of a horror movie, if that makes any sense. Director Philip Ridley aligned himself with a top notch cast and crew to create a special film with the best of intentions. I appreciate HEARTLESS for not being a movie for the sake of being a movie, but for the sake of telling a story and having a message that people can relate to, especially if they've ever been in the emotional or mental gutter.

Is HEARTLESS a perfect movie or an outstanding piece of modern-day cinema, horror or otherwise? Absolutely not, but it's certainly a breath of fresh air. There's some unnecessary CGI in the film that bothered me a little, and I was also a tad bit annoyed with how some of the symbolism in the film was used (the clues in regards to what direction the film was heading in the second act were far from subtle), but the positives greatly outweigh the negatives here. Every single character was believable and credible and the acting was great all across the board, especially Jim Sturgess, who also sings the film's theme song.

HEARTLESS will seem undeniably pessimistic when one watches it, or perhaps too "emo" and full of self-pity, but the message it conveys is ultimately optimistic and full of hope: stop feeling sorry for yourself, embrace your flaws, and move the fuck on with your life.

Score: 7


  1. I really enjoyed Heartless, it's an excellent example of what can be done with a solid story, a low budget and a lot of talent.

  2. Agreed! I'm relieved to know that I'm not the only one (other than the people who made the movie) who liked this. Thanks.

  3. I also really enjoyed this. I just picked it up randomly at the video rental shop because I liked the sound of the premise. And I also like Jim Sturgess and Clémence Poésy. It was a really atmospheric and beautifully creepy film, though it did fall apart a little towards the end. I thought it had too many 'endings' but there were some really interesting ideas throughout.

  4. I've been waiting for this movie to come out for what seems like forever! I totally moved it up my queue after reading your review. I can't wait to see more from its stars.

  5. James: Glad to hear you enjoyed this one also. I wasn't so much bothered by the number of endings as I was by the vagueness of certain revelations.

    Bevin: Same here. I wasn't familiar with Jim Sturgess at all before seeing this but now I'm gonna have to seek out some of his movies even though he hasn't done a lot of "genre" stuff. He was great in this.