Nothing ruins a feature debut premiere quite like a global pandemic. Fortunately, you can stream Ben Lawrence’s AACTA-nominated drama on digital right now.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Dan (Hugo Weaving) is a photojournalist whose work is not for the faint of heart. His pictures capture some of the most harrowing and confronting visuals of war zones around the world. As he prepares an exhibition showcasing his life’s work, he meets Sebastian (Andrew Luri), a Sudanese taxi driver who has learned that Dan possesses photos of the massacre that took place in his home village years beforehand. The two men and their families become friends, but dark secrets of the past are unearthed and threaten to unravel their lives when Sebastian asks Dan to keep the photos in question away from the eyes of the public.
Given its exploration of the life and impact of a photojournalist’s work, it’s no surprise to learn that director Ben Lawrence worked as a photographer and documentary filmmaker before his feature debut Hearts and Bones. Lawrence has reused the themes of long-gestating grief and trauma explored in his doco Ghosthunter for dramatic effect to create an impressive original story for his first fictional film.
For Weaving, Dan is a rich role that shakes the stern stoicism he’s made so much of his career perfecting. Professional on the outside, he’s in fact a deeply unstable human being, battling an increasingly all-consuming PTSD from the horrors he’s witnessed, his declining health, and the fears of his wife’s (Hayley McElhinney, also great) new pregnancy – given he’s still grieving over the premature death of their last baby.
Matching the veteran actor – incredibly, for his first time acting – is Luri, whose Sebastian is just as emotionally fractured, despite his happy demeanour. He’s reformed, as Dan sees, through his comfortable family life and joyous African community choir, but the pictures Dan plans to show the world could reveal a past Sebastian worked hard to bury. Tensions boil and violence looms between the pair, with both actors playing off each other and their respective wives to draw a great deal of depth and complexity out of a relatively small and contemplative drama.
It’s great that its layered characters are so strong because the potentially ripe subject matter remains pretty surface level. The opening moments – in which Dan hurriedly scopes out the scene of a brutal car wreckage to take death shots before the police arrive – promise a Nightcrawler-style exposure of the dark extremes journalism can go to, that is never delivered upon. It’s also a little surprising that visually, it’s a little bland, given Lawrence’s background behind the camera.
But for a narrative debut, Hearts and Bones is well-executed, and as an acting showcase and character thought-piece, it’s largely applaudable.
Hearts and Bones is available on iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay and the Microsoft Store in Australia from 6 May 2020
Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment