Strong performances and intimate cinematography elevate an otherwise so-so drama in writer/director Kerem Sanga’s The Violent Heart.
Fifteen years after the murder of his older sister, Daniel (Jovan Adepo) is working at a garage and trying to join the marines – but his plans are upended when he starts falling for a beautiful high school student named Cassie (Grace Van Patten). While I found the premise of the film to be contrived and trite, and the relationship between Cassie and Daniel somewhat forced, I will say that Sanga does a wonderful job of setting up the social divide between the two lovers. Though they live in the same town, it quickly becomes clear that they are worlds apart in terms of social status and experiences.
Adepo and Van Patten have great chemistry, managing to sell the romance between Daniel and Cassie despite the weak points in Sanga’s script – which spends a great deal of time attempting to justify the age difference between the leads and reminding the viewer (repeatedly) that Cassie is eighteen. The intimate cinematography also helps build an atmosphere of trust, connection, and vulnerability between the actors and the audience. It is hard not to be emotionally moved and invested.
The Violent Heart is as much, if not more, concerned with the mystery of Daniel’s sister’s murder than with Daniel and Cassie’s love story. While the twists and turns are predictable, they are well timed and satisfying. It isn’t easy to balance romance and melodrama with the carefully plotting of a mystery/thriller, but The Violent Heart manages frequent shifts in tone and genre with a deft hand.
The film felt more sure of itself when it was exploring the thriller and suspense elements of the story than with Cassie’s characterization. I enjoyed Van Patten’s performance and found Cassie believable as a character. That said, I think I would have connected with The Violent Heart more had she been just a bit more developed. I don’t think I quite understood what Cassie wanted or who she was – besides a bored teenager who feels like she has “out grown” high school. This wasn’t an issue when the pace picked up in the third act, but while the romance was first developing I found myself losing interest.
Overall, The Violent Heart is a decent drama – but I couldn’t help but feel like it was missing that little “something” that would have made it truly memorable.
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