Review: Melodrama ‘The Violent Heart’ stays at a low boil

Grace Van Patten and Jovan Adepo in the movie "The Violent Heart."
(Ricardo Diaz/Gravitas Ventures)

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The talented actor Jovan Adepo brings depth and warmth to “The Violent Heart,” a pensive melodrama that otherwise never heats up. Writer-director Kerem Sanga tries to goose his movie’s energy with shocking plot-twists late in the story; but these ultimately come at the expensive of his cast.

Adepo plays Daniel, a small-town Tennessee mechanic trying to get his life back on track after a tumultuous youth. At 9, he witnessed his older sister’s murder. Later he spent time in prison for felony assault, complicating his plans to follow in his father’s footsteps in the Marines.


Then Daniel meets and falls for Cassie (Grace Van Patten), a high-achieving high school senior rebelling against her hypocritical father (Lukas Haas). Cassie and Daniel bond right away over the pressure of parental expectations and their sense that their lives have been shaped by the heavy hand of fate.

This central relationship is strong, with Adepo and Van Patten adding fine emotional shading not evident in the dialogue alone. Sanga has an understanding of the world these young lovers inhabit and how they’ve grown up in a fishbowl, constantly constrained and judged.

But by opening this movie with the mystery of “Who killed Daniel’s sister?”, Sanga locks his picture into a plot that proves more distracting than illuminating. He does a disservice to Adepo and Van Patten, who don’t get much space to develop their characters, because the story demands so much exposition and confrontation.

There’s a lot to like in “The Violent Heart,” with Adepo at the top of the list. But Sanga errs by giving his movie the deterministic structure of a potboiler and the muted tone of a slice-of-life indie drama. Like the two lovers at its center, his film is never given the chance to become what it’s striving to be.

'The Violent Heart'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: Available Feb. 19 on VOD and in limited release where theaters are open