Plot: After his mother is murdered by a demonic street gang, a young man (Jim Sturgess)- whose face is disfigured by a large heart shaped birthmark, walks the streets of London looking for revenge. His quest soon brings him face to face with a mysterious figure called Papa B (Joseph Mawle), with whom he strikes a Faustian deal, which allows him to be beautiful and to experience love, but at a hefty cost.
Review: HEARTLESS was one of the films I was most looking forward to seeing at Fantasia. It's gotten a lot of good buzz since coming out in the UK a few months ago, and it marks the return of director Philip Ridley (THE REFLECTING SKIN) who hasn't made a feature film in fifteen years.
As you can no doubt tell from the plot outline, HEARTLESS is a modern day spin on Faust- updated to the urban hell of 21st Century East London- which was also the subject of the recent Michael Caine revenge thriller, HARRY BROWN. Like that film, this also deals with street gangs, although here they're given a more supernatural bent.
Jim Sturgess, a hot young actor probably on the verge of making it big after star turns in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and 21- plays our disfigured hero, and he gives an excellent, nuanced performance. In many ways, he reminded me a bit of Jude Law in THE ROAD TO PERDITION, in that- like Law, Sturgess is something of a pretty boy, but here his looks are significantly downplayed (at least in the first half of the film)- which results in a much darker performance than we're accustomed to seeing him deliver.
HEARTLESS is probably the best role I've seen him in thus far (although he was also excellent in FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING), and bodes well for his upcoming slate of big films. As long as he doesn't get typecast as the pretty boy, we can expect big things from him- and this is a big step in the right direction.
In many ways, HEARTLESS reminded me of the first (good) CROW film. Now, HEARTLESS isn't as action packed as this, but it's given the same rich, Gothic feel from director Ridley- and his take on the age old-Faustian tale is visually stunning (minus some dodgy CGI, which belies the film's low budget). In addition, Ridley's also surrounded star Sturgess with a top notch supporting cast- including two old English pros, Eddie Marsan, and Timothy Spall. Marsan- plays the “Weapons Man”- an emmisary of Satan who assigns chaotic tasks to those who've made a demonic pact, and Spall, pops up in a few scenes as Sturgess' deceased father. We also get Clemence Poesy, of IN BRUGES, as the eventual love interest- that, rather than save Sturgess' soul, might infact propel him further into the abyss.
However, the most memorable performance has to be from Mawle, who plays the satanic Papa B. He's extremely unsettling in the role, partially due that in contrast to a lot of other big screen devils, he underplays the role. It's extremely effective, and his performance will definitely be one of the things that will stay with you after the film.
I'm somewhat surprised that one of the big genre studios like Lionsgate, Rogue, or Screen Gems hasn't picked up HEARTLESS, as it's something I could easily see a lot of horror fans embrace, if they were given the chance. While it's a little more deliberately paced than other recent horror offerings, it packs a punch, and a must see for serious horror fans- especially if your idea of true horror is more something like ANGEL HEART, than SAW. Catch it if you can.