Guy (Alev Aydin) walks into a bar. The bar’s owner, Burt Walker (Patrick Day), is there doing the books. Guy sits nervously, orders a drink, then turns to the owner and blurts out that he’s been sleeping with his wife. Paul Osborne’s thriller Cruel Hearts opens with this kick in the teeth and then never lets up.
Walker is incredulous but listens to the story. The guy explains that he met her in a club and went home with her, but says he didn’t know she was married and he’s sorry as hell about it. When he found out she was married to a man connected to organized crime, he was so terrified that he came immediately to confess his sins and throw himself at the mercy of Walker, begging his forgiveness. Walker drags him into the office, roughs him up, and pulls his pistol. The man talks Walker out of shooting him and then bolts before he can change his mind.
“…plops down beside you and tells you it’s boffing your wife, then makes a compelling argument for you to stick around.”
It’s clear early on that not all is as it seems. We learn more through a Rashomon-like retelling of the story from three points of view: Walker, The Stranger, and The Wife. This Tarantinoesque framing means that only the viewer knows everything. Cruel Hearts owes a lot to QT, as a matter of fact, in style, dialog, and pacing. Our lord and savior, Quentin, would no doubt be most amused by these proceedings, were he not so busy making room at his place for all the awards he’s about to win for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
The narrative is wound as tight as Walker himself. The man is stressed handling money for the organization and spends an inordinate amount of time at the bar making sure all stays copacetic with his handlers. We learn more about him through a vignette with an also-connected criminal named Grimmer (Eddie Jemison, who appeared in OCEANS 11, 12, and 13) and his literal partner in crime, Adele (Marion Kerr). They have abducted someone named Jack (Sean Russel Herman) to question him about the money he’s thought to have stolen from the mob, and need a place to get him off the street and have the conversation. When they decide on Walker’s bar, things go hilariously and violently sideways.