Jovan Adepo and Grace Van Patten portray Daniel and Cassie, a pair of star-crossed lovers in Gravitas Ventures The Violent Heart from director Keram. The film begins in the year 2004. Daniel (Jordan Preston Carter) is overtly happy that overjoyed that his military father Lee (Cress Williams) has returned home to his family. The family also includes his wife Nina (Mary J. Blige) and daughter Wendy (Rayen Symone Ferrell). One night Wendy sneaks out. When Daniel’s curiosity gets the best of him, he follows his sibling only to witness her murder.
Fifteen years later, Daniel (Jovan Adepo) is now a twenty-four-year-old ex-con working in an automobile repair shop. Daniel is also the male role model to younger brother Aaron (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). Daniel hopes to leave behind the small-town life by enlisting in the Marines. Meanwhile, high school senior Cassie (Grace Van Patten) is trying to live up to the expectations of her English teacher, dad Joseph (Lukas Haas), and homemaker mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley).
The two cross paths through a chance meeting and begin a friendship that leads to something more. The Violent Heart’s promotional materials described the film as a gothic-inspired Romeo and Juliet in the American heartland. While the American heartland angle plays out, I didn’t particularly see the Romeo & Juliet angle. Now, there is a connection between Daniel and Cassie’s family. Still, it’s nothing along the lines of the Ruling Houses of Capulet’s and Montagues. However, Keram Sanga’s angle to bring Daniel and Cassie together makes sense in 2021, as both are tortured, souls.
Kudos to writer Keram Sanga’s script for avoiding the interracial relationship tropes of Cassie and Daniel’s relationship, given that Daniel is African American while Cassie is Caucasian. Outside of Aaron’s joke, the angle is never a point of discussion in the film, even When Cassie’s parents discover her relationship with Daniel. They want her to stay away from Daniel because of the age difference and his criminal background instead of his skin color.
Jovan Adepo has impressed me with his acting skills since his breakthrough in 2016’s Fences. The English born actor put his emotion on full display and authenticates the brooding persona that Daniel’s role requires. I genuinely sympathized with Daniel and the bad hand life dealt him. I wasn’t familiar with any of Grace Van Patten’s prior work, but she impressed me in the role of Cassie. Jahi Di’Allo Winston continues to rise as a young actor. Since portraying a young Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story, Winston has flexed on his acting chops playing believable teenagers. In this film, he has the chance to deliver a passionate monologue. Solid supporting work also arrives from Mary J. Blige as Daniel’s mom and Lukas Haas & Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Cassie’s parents.
For the most part, The Violent Heart succeeds in the story that its director wants to tell. Per the course, though, I do have gripes with the film. Talented actor Cress Williams is reduced to maybe a five-minute cameo. The script paints him as an absentee father using the line that he’s on assignment in Afghanistan. The problem is that Daniel spends the movie hoping to get into the military to make his dad happy, yet the script downplays that angle. I would have loved to see some interaction between Jovan Adepo and Cress Williams.
The film’s ending also affected my final grade, and I do get what the director was going for. But the angle Keram Sanga gives Daniel in his attempt to complete Daniel’s arc is uncalled for and borderline insulting. Despite a weak ending, I will mildly recommend The Violent Heart for the acting of our two leads and Jahi Di’Allo Winston.
Final Grade: C
The Violent Heart opens in theaters and on demand on February 19, 2021