Film Review – Buster’s Mal Heart
Buster's Mal Heart
Buster’s Mal Heart is a predictable mystery film that offers little in the way of surprises, and what surprises it does have are underplayed to the point of being uninteresting. Our lead Buster (Rami Malek) is a pretty basic person, who is happily married to Marty (Kate Lyn Sheil) and has a cute two year old daughter. But because he works nights at a hotel he has trouble adjusting his sleeping habits and is constantly exhausted. His only ambitions seem to be getting his own piece of land to live off of and switching shifts to daytime. Then one night a man calling himself The Last Free Man (DJ Qualls) shows up saying he doesn’t have an ID or credit card because he wants to stay off the grid and that society boxes us in. He talks incessantly about the world being destroyed by something called the inversion without giving any evidence as to why that is. Buster seems to listen to what he is saying without really paying attention or acknowledging anything about this apocalyptic vision. Yet we know early on that this babbling has some effect on him because the film shows us that at some point in the future Buster has become a rambling mountain man with long hair and a beard who breaks into people’s vacation homes for supplies and to sleep and calls radio shows to warn about the inversion coming.
Rami Malek has become a household name with his work as a paranoid computer hacker on Mr. Robot so casting him as a paranoid hotel worker who is not getting enough sleep seems like a good fit, knowing how well he can play someone who has lost his grip on reality. What director Sarah Adina Smith lacks is showing why his paranoia is interesting. In comparison with his Mr. Robot character, which contrasts to show what doesn’t work in this film, in Mr. Robot we are given a history about why his character distrusts the world he lives in and what it is he wants to fight as well as showing what his family life is like and, most importantly, we hear his thoughts in a voice over that lets us into his world view. This film does the exact opposite while expecting the same results.
Buster is not a person beyond his love for his family, which Malek is able to express beautifully in the few moments they interact, but we never see him seriously interact with any of the characters in a way that lets us see what is happening to him. Even The Last Free Man seems more like an afterthought than someone he is actually interacting with or even passively acknowledging. So much of this film is Buster being tired, and because he doesn’t get across that there is anything deeper that is wrong with him we mainly just coast along. To try to keep things interesting the film jumps from the past where Buster is working to the more recent present with Buster in the full beard mountain man look to the actual present where he is clean-shaven and being chased by the cops. Yet each time there is the same problem: Buster is not interesting, and we have no idea why he is doing any of the things he is doing. Malek is simply alone on screen acting like he is slightly unhinged but he has nothing to bounce off of. Heck, even when he does run into some people he says nothing to them, which I guess should be creepy but he never appears threatening so there is no tension.
What is worse is when we do find out some of what is wrong with him it is really disappointing. If I was to ask you what you thought DJ Quails was really about or how Buster ended up as some wild mountain man I would guess most of you would get it right on the first try. And while these cliches have their place and in fact have worked in the past both in film and TV, this film never earns these moments because there is no build up to them, they happen because Sarah Adina Smith thinks they should. The film does try to have its own set of rules by the end but it was too little too late. It also made so little sense as to what the film was trying to get across that I personally just went with it and hoped the ending might provide some clarity but, as expected, it simply wasn’t interesting.
The ideas that this film is trying to present have been done before and done better, To attempt to cover this up the film tries to keep the answers hidden for so long that we will think there is something more going on when all it actually does is bore us until there is an uninspiring conclusion. Rami Malek does the best he can with what he has been given, but the script provides nothing for him to work with. Skip this mystery. You already know how it ends and you can save yourself some time.