One thing is for sure in the wake of BUSTER’S MAL HEART: I will never look at the people taking care of me late at night ever again. All of those cashiers, gas station attendants, hospital employees, hotel clerks? All of them now get painted with a very different brush.
It’s the early 90’s when we first meet “Buster” (Rami Malek); a hermit avoiding law enforcement in the woods. He is squatting in luxury cottages left vacant for warmer climates and telling anyone he encounters that the end is coming. Once upon a time, “Buster” was Jonah – a mid thirties husband and father who worked the night shift as a concierge at a middle-of-nowhere hotel.
One day he meets a mysterious stranger (DJ Qualls) looking for a room without ID or a credit card. He’s convinced that the end is nigh, and doesn’t want to become part of a system that’s about to come crashing down around him.
So how does the stranger affect Jonah and send him on a path of wandering? Well, that’s sort of a long story.
Director Sarah Adina Smith works wonderfully in concert with her star to tell a story that is becoming more and more apt with every passing year: how much is too much? While we live in an era where many who join the workforce seem averse to “paying their dues”, there’s “dues” and there’s “overtaxation”. Jonah is clearly overtaxed; already doing something to provide for others, and even then beings asked to do far more of it than he rightfully should.
This state of overstress is incredibly rendered both with Smith’s direction – an approach that is sometimes stark, often tender, and always beautifully ugly. It’s likewise brought to life by Malik, whose eyes aren’t windows into his fractured soul so much as they are garage doors. BUSTER’S MAL HEART is in some ways familiar and in many ways uncomfortable, but we can’t ever look away thanks to the honesty and heartache that these two artists bring to the table.
What this film wants us to consider is how easy it is for the lines to begin to blur. How, as one author once said, everything can become a copy of a copy of a copy. Sarah Adina Smith said that the character of Buster came to her while she was walking in the woods, but I’d wager that we all have a Buster that we have encountered in our own lives…we just don’t know it.
So many people we know are overextended…so many are burnt out. More and more are becoming disenfranchised with a system that only seems out to use them and throw the rind away.
BUSTER’S MAL HEART is a story for them; a fable set in the past, and an atheist’s prayer for their future.