Fantasia 2010: Heartless

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“Heartless is aimless and messy, and offers no real insight in the very many themes it introduces.”


Directed by Philip Ridley

Everything you need to know about Heartless is laid out in the first thirty minutes. It is a film about vanity, loss and pain… it is also about gang violence, social decay and the supernatural… not to mention, the importance of family, finding the beauty within and searching peace in a chaotic world. If that seems like a lot for one film to cover, I assure you it is. To suggest that Heartless could be slightly more focused is a grand understatement.

Jamie Morgan (Jim Sturgess) is a young adult living in London. He was born with a birthmark that covers a portion of his face and part of his body: it is debilitating to him, and he cannot seem to live a normal life due to the anxiety it causes. As the film begins, his world is falling apart as he begins to see strange demons who commit random acts of violence and is forced to watch as they brutally murder his mother. Shortly thereafter, he is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to have his deepest desire granted. Unfortunately for him, things don’t quite work out and his life only gets worse.

By conventional standards, Morgan would be considered handsome. Sure, he has a large birth mark covering a portion of his face and some of his body, but that does little to remove the fact that he is very good looking. It is the “syndrome” one finds in a lot of teen comedies where the ugly duckling only has to take off her glasses to become a swan. This would not normally be much of an issue if it were not for the fact that the film’s pivotal narrative event is an offer that would make any one of Jamie’s dreams come true. Keep in mind, just days before, his mother had been brutally murdered.

Of course he doesn’t choose to bring her back; he doesn’t even consider it. He doesn’t choose love, or wealth or fame; Jamie chooses beauty. For Quasimodo this might be a reasonable request, but for our protagonist here, it is absurd.

Obviously, when dealing with evil beings who want you to inspire chaos, things don’t work out quite the way you’d hope and Jamie soon realizes he has bit off way more than he can chew. Though his new life seems good at first, it quickly spirals out of control as it becomes apparent that the “demon” who granted his wish was not being altogether truthful. Instead of having to commit petty crimes like graffiti, in order to stay alive he must murder someone and remove their heart before the next full moon.

Most of the rest of the film is painfully redundant and has a “twist” (if we can even call it that) reminiscent of late M. Night Shyamalan. Very briefly, the film seems to turn around and becomes entertaining. This is due to the appearance of Eddie Marsan, who brings some much needed humor to the film. He is one of those few actors who are able to elevate any material he is in and he offers a brief glimpse into the film that “could have been.” The dark comic sensibility he brings to the table is enough to elevate the next few scenes, but unfortunately the film quickly falls into old habits.

Aside from that brief stretch, there is little worth recommending in Heartless. It is aimless and messy, and offers no real insight in the very many themes it introduces. To put it bluntly, it’s a terrible film.

Justine Smith

  1. Amanda says

    Terrible movie. I have to agree with whoever wrote this review. It looked bad, had a stupid twist, a terrible soundtrack and bad acting. Jim Sturges is just boring and the effects were lame.

    1. Justine says

      Amanda: I somehow didn’t mention the soundtrack, it was awful. Like a bad cover band of Muse. Felt like Twilight.

  2. Gruener Heinrich says

    I’m reading reviews on this site for quite a while but I never left a comment. Now I feel the need to, so people won’t be turned off by this review. I watched the film a few months ago during the Fantasy Filmfest Nights in Frankfurt and I was stunned. There were only to minor things that I didn’t like (one soundtrack choice as well as the very last scene, which was maybe a bit corny), nevertheless the overall experience was great. I couldn’t discuss the film afterwards for a while because of the emotional impact it had on me. I rewatched the blu ray three days ago and the impact was comparable. I knew nearly nothing about the movie prior watching it and I think thats the best way to go with it. That said, I have to agree, that the movie has a lot of themes and it can’t focus on all of them. But that’s not a real problem for a movie that touches on such an universal human subject like the divergence of look and self-image. It’s just the right mix of seriousness, suspense and fun, combined with superb acting and cinematography not to mention the great soundtrack. I look forward to watch it again.

    1. Justine says

      I was actually looking forward to the film quite a bit, despite knowing little to nothing about it. I was anxious to see the first feature from a great director in a very long time. Sadly, my reaction was (clearly) very different from yours. There was not a moment where I became emotionally invested in the lead character’s journey, and aside the scenes with the weapon’s man, the film is serious to the point of being tedious.

  3. Sarah says

    Terrible? My husband and I really enjoyed Heartless. The acting was outstanding and I thought the cinematography was beautiful. I look forward to seeing it again since there was so much going on, and the pace was so fast, that I’m sure I missed out on half of the symbolism that was presented.

    1. Justine says

      To be honest, I don’t remember the cinematography being remarkable. It certainly wasn’t bad. The acting was average, nothing cringe worthy. Eddie Marsan was spectacular however. We can at least agree on the fact that a lot was going on.

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