By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
It’s been about a day-and-a-half since I sat down and watched “Buster’s Mal Heart,” and there’s really no other way to say this – it’s one of the strangest things I’ve seen in a long, long time. And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
Rami Malek stars as Buster, a reclusive mountain man who lives off of the land (and empty homes) and spends much of his time riling up the locals and the authorities or calling in to local news outlets to preach about the impending “Inversion,” which is set to hit right around the time of Y2K.
But before Buster was Buster, he was Jonah – devoted husband and father; hardworking overnight hotel concierge; and a man who wants freedom from work, mortgage, and the city life.
Through flashbacks and fantasy scenes, “Buster’s Mal Heart” shows how Jonah’s chance encounter with a mysterious conspiracy theorist (DJ Qualls) leads him down the road from family man to cautionary tale that locals share when they hear a bump in the night.
On more than one occasion while watching this film I found myself asking – out loud – “what the (your choice of profanity here)?” That only increased in the final moments, when I exclaimed to nobody in particular, “Seriously! What the (insert same profanity here)?”This is of note because I watched the film alone.
And that combination feeling of confusion/excitement is not something I experience often. I liken the experience to the first time I saw “Memento,” “Fight Club” and “Frailty” – at least in terms of the “a-ha” moment when everything makes sense.
And while “Buster” is an entirely different kind of movie than those, the comparison should show how highly I think of it – the others all rank in my personal Top-25. And like those, I think that “Buster” is going to have a lot more that you notice upon further viewings.
I think it’s fair to say that if you’re a Malek fan from his stint on “Mr. Robot” you’re probably going to love what he does here. In terms of messing with your head, his performance here is very much in line with that. Where he truly impresses me, however, is how seamlessly he handles the stark difference between Noah and Buster – a masterful performance.
But I feel the majority of the credit needs to go to writer/director Sarah Adina Smith, who did an incredible job in crafting this unique, surreal universe that Noah and Buster somehow both inhabit. She expertly melds the current and past timelines to keep you guessing from beginning to end.
Like those movies I mentioned earlier, “Buster’s Mal Heart” is not going to be for everyone. The non-linear storytelling, dark themes, and sometimes shocking imagery don’t necessarily lend themselves too well to a time of the year generally recognized for its Hollywood blockbusters. However, for those of us looking for something a little meatier to serve a “blockbuster buffer,” this is the perfect film for the job.
“Buster’s Mal Heart” opens Friday, May 19, at the The Film Society at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.”
★★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.