Buster’s Mal Heart (Sarah Adina Smith, 2016): USA

Reviewed by Nelson Roosendahl. Viewed at AFI Film Fest 2016.

Buster’s Mal Heart is a story of a mountain wild man evading authorities while taking refuge and supplies from vacant second homes in the Rocky Mountains. He is haunted by a recurring dream of himself adrift in a small boat on the ocean. He has left his night-shift hotel job as and family abruptly for this life after encountering a side of himself discomforted by the rat race of suburban America at the turn of the millennium.

Throughout the film, the camera stays glued to Buster (Rami Malek), backing off for some graphic long shots—of Buster—working in his hotel.

The alternate-reality, peeling-the-onion dimension of this film is not as interesting as the straight narrative itself. It is interesting to watch Buster meet with his recurring guest who is obsessed with conspiracies and doesn’t ever give his name (DJ Qualls). It is interesting watching Buster survive in the winter wilderness. These scenes of the Montana woods may seem just as unreal to urban dwellers as being at once in Montana’s woods and marooned in the waters off Saipan with a second, shorn version of Buster, and that may be a good argument for forgoing the Inception references, even if the goal is to make something that seems unreal. In the case of this reviewer, the dream-within-a-dream needed to be processed and understood long after the film ended, almost as if it had been a South Park-esque parody of the film.

The hotel in the production is probably the most significant part of the film. In the early 80s, Michael Cimino was busy dismantling UA and a bygone era of moviemaking with Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Hubbert, and Sam Waterson, in Heaven’s Gate, from the halls of The Outlaw Inn in Kalispell, Mont. The hotel served as the epicenter of the production—and UA’s demise, even though shooting occurred hours away. Now, after the hotel itself has closed, it lives again, for the first time, on film.

Incidentally, production manager for this film is Skye Grace Bennett, memorable for her acting role in Jim Mohn’s production of Much Ado About Nothing.

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