Heartless is a tough film to review as each person’s response to it will be different depending on how you decipher the film. Although the film had several interesting themes woven throughout, I could not help but feel rather disappointed overall. I just did not love it the way others I spoke to did. I think one of the main problems I had is that the film did not go in the direction I was hoping it would. The film starts off with a nice creepy feel to it. The whole notion of a demon gang patrolling the streets of East London was intriguing. Unfortunately the film takes so many sharp turns that the whole is not as satisfying as the parts. The minute you start to warm up to an idea, the deal with the devil angle for example, the film quickly jumps to a whole new realm. Nothing is ever truly resolved.
Director Philip Ridley has proven, with his wonderful film The Reflecting Skin, that can handle darkly off-beat material. Heartless is a psychological horror with strong elements from children’s fables such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Yet the pieces never add up. Philip Ridley mashes-up so many different genre conventions that the first half of the film is rather incoherent. By time the film ends you appreciate what Ridley is attempting to achieve with the film even though he is not successful.
The one saving grace to the film is the performances by the cast; most notably the work of Jim Strugess, Timothy Spall, and Eddie Marsan. Jim Strugess is great in the lead role, he skillfully conveys Jamie’s uneasiness with the world around him. Timothy Spall is simply brilliant in his brief time on screen. I wish Ridley had a few more scenes with Spall scattered throughout the film. Since Spall is such an integral part of understanding the story more of his presence would have been a plus. Similar to Timothy Spall, Eddie Marsan is another actor who makes the most of his brief time on screen. His role as the “Weapon’s Man” provides one of the few genuinely funny moments in the film. As I mentioned before, I was disappointed in the film overall but I seemed to be in the minority. Heartless strives to be many things at all once, and yet does not fully explore any of them.