Hearts and Bones Review
We first meet photojournalist Dan Fisher (Hugo Weaving) in Iraq in 2018, trying to calm a young girl. But the click of his camera scares her and she runs away...to be blown up by a landmine. Jump forward a year or so, and Dan lives in Sydney. His experiences in the world’s war zones have had a lasting effect, from hand tremors to full-blown panic attacks. He is about to have an exhibition of his photographs at the State Library.
Meanwhile, his partner Josie (Hayley McElhinney) has told him she is pregnant, which makes Dan as much anxious as happy, for reasons we soon discover. Also in Sydney is South Sudanese taxi driver Sebastian (Andrew Luri, in his screen acting debut), a member of a choir with fellow asylum seekers who makes contact with Dan. Some of the photographs being considered for the exhibition show a massacre at Sebastian’s own village, and he asks Dan not to include them. But his reasons for this are not as straightforward as they appear.
Written by Beatrix Christian and Ben Lawrence, from a story by the latter, Hearts and Bones is the first dramatic feature directed by Lawrence. The son of Ray Lawrence (director of Bliss, Lantana and Jindabyne), he had previously made an excellent documentary feature, Ghosthunter. Hearts and Bones takes on some weighty issues. For one the age-old question whether a journalist should just observe or become involved in the lives they photograph for the edification of those back home. Immigration continues to be a fraught issue in Australia, as well as elsewhere, and this is a film in favour of the contributions asylum seekers can offer. Dan and Sebastian find common ground despite their wildly different backgrounds. Their other halves – Josie and Sebastian’s wife Anishka (Bolude Watson) – also are able to bond, and not just because they are both pregnant.
The film doesn’t dwell on the atrocities Dan must have witnessed, with just the incident in the opening scene standing in for any guilt he feels. It is very well acted, and holds the attention throughout, even if some of it is a little on the nose. (A malfunctioning washing machine is a device straight out of Symbolism 101 in depicting the state of Dan and Josie’s relationship.) The very last scene, in which a choral performance of “Road to Nowhere” segues into the Talking Heads original over photographs of real refugees, is a misstep, making the film seem more sentimental than it actually is. However, this is an impressive fictional debut by Lawrence.
Hearts and Bones was originally set for a cinema release in Australia in April 2020, but that went by the board due to the COVID pandemic, and the film went straight to streaming instead. However, as it was intended for cinema release even if it didn’t receive one, it qualified for the AACTA Awards and received three nominations, for Weaving as Best Lead Actor and Luri and Watson in the Supporting categories, with none of them winning.
Hearts and Bones is currently available on UK streaming services.