Hearts and Bones – movie review

A photographer who suffers from PTSD befriends a hardworking Sudanese man with a secret traumatic past. Hearts and Bones is a heavy-hitting drama with a feel-good ending, but more of that later.

Daniel Fisher (Hugo Weaving) is an acclaimed war photographer. His work means he leaves his long-term partner, Josie Avril (Haley McElhinney), a ballet teacher, for long stretches. In the past she had been pregnant but lost that baby. When Daniel returns from his latest assignment, Josie drops the news that she is with child again, although he’s less than enamoured with the idea. Daniel is preparing for an upcoming exhibition of his work when he’s approached by Sebastian Aman (Andrew Luri), a South Sudanese refugee. Sebastian wants Fisher to photograph members of a community choir – all survivors of war. Daniel isn’t interested, but then matters take a turn. As Fisher gets to know Sebastian and his pregnant wife, Anishka Ahmed (Bolude Watson), he can see how drawn Sebastian is to owning a patch of land he can call his own. But he’s also hiding a dark secret.

Co-writer (with Beatrix Christian) and director Ben Lawrence was inspired by a dramatic and disturbing photograph he saw at a Sydney exhibition. That, along with a campaign he worked on for Amnesty International, exposed him to recently arrived refugees.

While I was impressed by the characterisation of the four principal characters, I could feel myself being manipulated and picked where the picture was going before the final act. That’s when Hearts and Bones became most interesting. An unexpected shock gave it a decided – and much-needed – lift.

I greatly appreciated the grizzled intensity that Weaving brought to the taciturn and troubled snapper. There was no pretension about Luri (who’s not a trained actor), which suited the role. He came across as natural and authentic. Fortunately, McElhinney and Watson – as Fisher and Aman’s respective partners – aren’t merely cast as “handbags”. They’re admirably real and are given substantial parts.

While not without merit, I found Hearts and Bones’ finale too convenient. I feel a negative ending – as unpopular as it may have been – would have had greater impact and been more appropriate to the material. Instead, the message the film conveys is that in the wake of untold horror hope springs eternal, which many will appreciate.

Hearts and Bones is available on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Sony PlayStation, Telstra and Fetch TV from 6 May 2020.

Alex First

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