Wendy (Rayven Symone Ferrell) is a minor character in The Violent Heart. But her murder leaves shockwaves for the people who still remember her. Her younger brother Daniel (Jordan Preston Carter) found her dying in the woods. That encounter still haunts a grownup version of him (Jovan Adepo). Kerem Sanga’s film jumps forward fifteen years into Daniel’s life. For most of the film, he’s a 24-year-old mechanic and marine applicant with a criminal record. While working, a gregarious 18-year-old white woman, Cassie (Grace Van Patten), asks him for a ride. That ride helps them bond. Each day gets the closer together, which makes them discover secrets about each other. Yes, this premise feels a little soapy.
But for better or for worse, Sanga uses his characters and their environments to mix up his film’s tone. Cassie seems like a good influence for Daniel, whose new positive outlook affects his occasionally grief-stricken mother (Mary J. Blige) and aloof brother Aaron (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). The couple also find themselves in places like a back alley somewhere in Nashville. That’s after Daniel gets into a minor bar scuffle. Scenes like this add a grit to an otherwise wispy romance set in, presumably, rural Tennessee. There are also moments where Sanga uses subtle cinematography that add to his film’s mosaic-like mood. And van Patten’s performance might set her apart from a generation of starlets that popped out before her.
Cassie’s sunny disposition contrasts that grit while making the age gap between Cassie her and Daniel seem negligible. But almost, unfortunately, doesn’t count for The Violent Heart. As a reminder, this film is about this young couple straining to make things work. At least half of it has Cassie and Daniel going out for drives to have romantic conversations. And in these talks, one haracter often reassures the other despite of how difficult their love is. Some viewers will find a hard time believing a character like Cassie. Her assertiveness almost feels like justification for adults who date high school girls. It also fumbles the plot point involving her finding out about Wendy.
Other films have shown better ways and dynamics that involve characters researching each other. The Violent Heart then dips slightly further into mess when Cassie pieces together another connection between her and Wendy. That connection, and I’m doing my best not to spill spoilers here, involves her English teacher father Joseph (Lukas Haas). The tonal shift becomes too wild to handle. That’s especially true when it incorporates blackmail into indie version of a bad melodrama. Cassie does things during this third act that, again, characters in other films do in more compelling ways. To be fair, Sanga’s film finds a balance between characters who know too much and too little. But it also gives these characters the easy way out from things they should be dealing with.
- Release Date: 2/19/2021