The Violent Heart

Jovan Adepo ("Fences ," "Overlord") plays Daniel, a 24-year-old trying to get into the Marines in order to escape his small town and put his tragic family past behind him. When he was nine, he saw his older sister being murdered in the woods by a man whose face he never saw and who has gone unpunished for 15 long years. Daniel understandably dealt with anger management issues his whole life, and did time as a juvenile for accidentally blinding a classmate in a school fight. Against all odds, a redemptive romance blooms between Daniel and Cassie (Grace Van Patten ), an 18-year-old high school senior. Cassie is a bright, beautiful, witty young woman whose closest friend is her father, Joseph (Lukas Haas ), who also happens to be her English teacher. Cassie is naturally starting to drift apart from Joseph and her mother Rose (Kimberly Williams-Paisley ) in preparation for leaving the nest, and the tension is amplified when she returns to school from her first long afternoon with Daniel (who fixed her vehicle at the local garage where he works as a mechanic) and catches her father in what might be a compromising moment with a teacher (they both seem flustered as the teacher lets herself out of Daniel's classroom).

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It's impossible to say an unkind word about the cast, a dazzling ensemble that includes Mary J. Blige , who shines as Daniel's mother (in her first movie role since "Mudbound "); Cress Williams as Lee, Daniel's father, an Afghanistan veteran who inspires him to the enter the armed forces; and Jahi Di'Allo Winston as Daniel's kid brother Aaron, who frets that mom favors big brother over him. Every performer of any significance works overtime to fill these characters with emotional nuances. The problem is that they seemingly have to tease out elements that are mostly glanced-over in the screenplay—particularly the racial dynamics of the relationship between Daniel and Cassie, and between Daniel's family and the town, which from all appearances is overwhelmingly white. There's exactly one reference to the fact that Daniel is a dark-skinned man in his mid-twenties dating a light-skinned blond teenager in a small middle-American town, the type that Black road-trippers might've driven around during the Green Book days.

"Million Dollar Baby." Hilary Swank contracted a bacterial infection from a blister she developed on her foot during training for her role. The infection was so serious that she almost had to be hospitalized for three weeks. Catching the infection in the nick of time, she instead chose to take a week off for medicated rest and didn't tell Clint Eastwood or the other producers of the film about the injury, because she didn't believe it was in character.

Even though we can feel the racial tension as subtext in a few scenes (particularly when mom and dad raise objections, and mom starts to say something like, "Also, he's..." but doesn't finish) it seems unrealistic that nobody in this story would bring it up as text. The central love story is a Romeo-and-Juliet type affair involving what appears to be the only Black family in town, one that was the victim of a violent, unsolved killing 15 years earlier. The writer/director makes a point of contrasting the daunting odds facing the hero as he tries to gain admission to the Marines despite his juvenile criminal conviction, and the heroine failing to truly listen to Daniel's pain, even as she offers herself as a confidant and emotional cheerleader. She replies to reports of incidents that shattered his self image and wounded his soul with counter-examples of bad stuff that just happened to her. Poor Cassie just doesn't get it.

"The Shawshank Redemption." When Andy goes to the library to begin work as Brooks' assistant and Brooks' crow, Jake, is squawking, Tim Robbins had to time his line, "Hey, Jake. Where's Brooks?" so that the crow wouldn't squawk over him, since the bird could not be trained to squawk on cue. Robbins was able to adapt to this and time his line perfectly by learning the bird's squawking patterns, for which Writer and Director Frank Darabont praised him. Robbins' improvisation is noticeable, as he watches the bird carefully while approaching it, waiting for it to squawk, and doesn't begin his line until after it does so.