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With: Hugo Weaving, Andrew Luri, Hayley McElhinney, Bolude Watson
Written by: Beatrix Christian, Ben Lawrence
Directed by: Ben Lawrence
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 110
Date: 11/20/2020

Hearts and Bones (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Big Picture

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A strong, sturdy feature directing debut by Ben Lawrence (son of filmmaker Ray), the emotionally astute drama Hearts and Bones is both bold in its vision of the world and quietly respectful of its characters' needs.

Celebrated war photographer Dan Fisher (Hugo Weaving) has seen his share of horrors. In a prologue, he photographs a dead couple in a car, and experiences a life-altering tragedy at the same time. Back home in Sydney, Australia, and with his partner Josie (Hayley McElhinney), he prepares for a career retrospective exhibition, and receives the alarming news that Josie is pregnant.

Meanwhile, he is approached by cab driver Sebastian (Andrew Luri), an immigrant from South Sudan. He invites Dan to a gathering of his friends to hear them sing, and invites Dan into his home for a meal. But he also wants Dan not to display photos of a massacre in his hometown. Will Dan do the right thing?

Hearts and Bones does rely a little bit on the structure of indie dramas like The Visitor, Goodbye Solo, and The Soloist, that show white characters becoming enlightened by friendships with immigrants and/or characters of color, but it nonetheless takes its time and finds dignity within the main characters. It never feels exploitative or manipulative, not even when Sebastian and his friends show up at Dan's house and sing him a beautiful song.

The movie is heavy on secrets, from Josie not telling Dan about the baby, to Dan not telling Josie about his wartime horrors, and Sebastian keeping things about his past from his second wife Anishka (Bolude Watson). The empty house that Dan helps Sebastian get into shape is also an interesting location, a blank slate, but separate, and something in-between Dan's huge loft and Sebastian's humble apartment.

The movie misses a chance to show more of Dan's photography as part of its palette, but nevertheless, its simple visuals, as well as the courage to show the characters as sexual beings, flawed, and forgivable, make Hearts and Bones into something special.

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