Jurgen Prochnow, Maria Conchita Alonso, Brendan Fletcher, Kett Turton
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
MTI (DVD), VCL Communications
Heart of America" will make you appreciate Gus Van Sant's Columbine inspired film "Elephant" on a grand scale. As directed by Uwe Boll, "Heart of America" takes the other approach to the Columbine killings by presenting a school shooting complete with Boll's trademark videogame approach of stylized clothing, rock music and drugs. Despite the intensity of the subject, and the incredible impact Columbine had on the psyche of our country, Boll's film is remarkably devoid of anything resembling honest emotions with the possible exception of one performance (which i will cover later).
I will say, in all honesty, that if I had not seen "Elephant" prior to this film I'd have been tempted to grace this film with a C-. In some ways, it tries and does take a rather unique approach (if overwhelming) to telling the story.
The first trouble lies in the casting of the leads, the "Dylan and Eric" lookalikes. Yes, there are some physical similarities. However, while both actors can master the "poor me" look...their voices are far from suited for anything cinematic. Where Van Sant successfully took non-actors, Boll just takes bad actors and puts them into a bad film.
Kett Turton is first on my list as "Daniel" (or Dylan, if you prefer). Turton has quite the acting background, but mostly in more independent projects. "Blade: Trinity" viewers will note he plays "Dingo" in the film. Turton is completely inadequate here with a face that shows great despair and hatred, but a voice that screams "Serve me a cappucino!" Where the Van Sant film took a subtle, building approach this film bounces from trauma to trauma to trauma in hopes that we will understand why the killers take their actions and we will sympathize with them.
Likewise, Brendan Fletcher as "Ricky" does a nice job looking like Eric but doesn't have the emotional depth to his performance necessary.
The film possesses a couple of "twists" that I'm sure Boll was quite proud of...I'm tempted to share them just to spare you this film. However, I did note as I was researching this film a bit that there are those who definitely enjoyed this film. I suppose they "needed" the rock n' roll approach to telling this story.
In the film's leads, veteran actors Michael Pare' (who I've heard referred to as the economy class Aidan Quinn), Jurgen Prochnow (as a high school principal) and Maria Conchita Alonso (in a rather bizarre, remarkably inadequate performance as a guidance counselor) all struggle with this material.
The sole exception may be a surprisingly effective, if somewhat brief, appearance by Clint Howard. As Daniel's father, Howard is incredibly powerful in creating a vision of the homelife that could very well have contributed to the creation of such a monster.
One of the more gratuitous scenes involves the setting of "bullies" meeting before school at the ballpark...I'm sure they are the school's "jocks", but they come off rather horrid. The graduated leader of these students is sharing a story of his most "far out" act in high school...it is the gang rape of "Slow White." An attractive, but developmentally disabled young girl who watches the boys play ball and is quickly taken advantage of. It's a sad, heartwrenching scene but beautifully played by Michaela Mann as "Slow White." I will also give Boll credit...this could have been a full frontal nudity, completely gratuitous rape scene...Boll wisely chose a more seductive, gentle rape scene that created even more sympathy for the victim as we watched her face. Even now, as I sit here, my heart breaks for her. Also, watching the bully's younger brother's face turn to horror as he realizes that he is expected to fill his big brother's shoes BUT that he finds this act depraved...well, it's remarkably effective.
The shootings themselves are remarkably anti-climactic...the "twists" being that a completely innocent person dies (DUH) and we get a surprise (mild) killer. Truthfully, this last twist is so subtle I didn't even notice it the first time I watched the film (yes, I watched it twice).
The rock soundtrack is intrusive, but effective at times. The camera work remarkably amateur including repeated shots of "Dara" on Meth. Having worked with many people on meth...nope, Boll is completely clueless here.
"Heart of America" works on a certain level, and I'd guess that certain, druggie teens might prefer it. Intelligent teens and genuine film fans will have a strong preference for "Elephant." This film is a stylized, much more hardcore version of the Columbine stories in which the bullies who pick on the killers are so extreme that one can't help but feel they deserve to die. It completely dilutes the impact of the actual shootings. I have heard many say that actions as extreme as those of the bullies don't happen in "real life." In actuality, they do. While I view this film as a missed opportunity that could have been something special under a better director, it nonetheless offers a glimpse into the other side of Columbine.
I can't say I'd recommend this film on any level, but part of me wants to hear some other feedback. Of course, those with an already existing Boll bias would do best to avoid this film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic