Hearts and Bones

Movie review by
Kat Halstead, Common Sense Media
Hearts and Bones Movie Poster Image
Tense and upsetting drama has violence and adult themes.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 111 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The importance of acknowledging and working through painful emotions instead of suppressing them. Accepting your past is the only way to move forward with the future. Communication and empathy are strong themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dan, a war photographer, believes he is making a positive impact by highlighting atrocities, but struggles to acknowledge his own PTSD. He is open to change, and willing to re-evaluate the context of his profession from the point of view of others. The complexities of wartime are explored, particularly through Sebastian, a Sudanese taxi driver, and his experience during a massacre. Characters from Africa and Syria represent hope and are rebuilding their lives and dealing with their PTSD positively through a community choir.

Violence

Dead bodies are shown in a car. A young child runs into a field of landmines and an explosion is heard. There is mention of massacre, shooting, bombs, rape, and PTSD. Real-life photographs are displayed of refugees and people with guns in war-torn villages. An attempted suicide -- via hanging -- is shown. A character is thrown to the ground and injured on the forehead, and older wounds are seen on their upper torso. There are instances of nightmares and panic attacks, and a character collapses and is taken to hospital. There are references to birth complications and the death of a baby, as well as the death of a spouse and children.

Sex

Sex is portrayed onscreen, with some nudity. Characters kiss and caress each other. A character is seen showering naked from behind.

Language

Occasional strong language includes "f--k" and "ass." "Jesus" is used as a curse word and a character's work is referred to as "misery porn."

Consumerism

One characters aspires to move up in the world from an apartment to a house.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink champagne with a meal, but nobody is seen to be drunk. Drinking is referenced on another occasion.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hearts and Bones is a tense Australian drama about the relationship between a war photographer and a refugee, starring Hugo Weaving. It contains adult themes including war, rape, PTSD, and the death of children and other family members. Dead bodies are seen and in one scene, a young girl runs into a field of landmines -- although you don't see it, an explosion is heard. A character attempts suicide by hanging themselves. Occasional strong language is used, including "f--k." The movie also looks at the challenges refugees face when settling in a new country. While there are moments of hope and warmth -- and a message about the importance of empathy -- this is a serious and, at times, upsetting movie that would likely be too distressing for younger viewers.

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What's the story?

In HEARTS AND BONES, renowned war photographer Dan Fisher (Hugo Weaving) returns from the field to select his best work for an upcoming exhibition. When Sebastian Ahmed (Andrew Luri) -- a Sudanese refugee working as a taxi driver -- hears a radio interview with the photographer, he seeks him out. Sebastian asks Dan if he remembers visiting his own war-torn village and whether he will photograph a community choir of fellow refugees using music to work through PTSD. The two become friends, but closer study of Dan's photos leads to secrets uncovered. Soon it becomes impossible for both men to hide their pasts and they must each make some life-changing choices about their future.

Is it any good?

The movie does well to portray the problematic role of a war photographer in recording atrocities and the moral and emotional struggles inherent in the job. Weaving is fittingly grizzled and broken, but clings to his work to avoid questioning his own problems. Luri is powerful in his debut role, expressing the hope and aspiration of life in a new country, alongside the reality of working two jobs and trying to move on from the horrors he has witnessed in Sudan. The emotional connection is strong thanks to grounded performances all round -- including Hayley McElhinney as Dan's concerned but quick to judge partner, and Sebastian's own wife Aniska (Bolude Watson) as her husband's empathetic but exhausted reality check.

The short war scenes are impactful, and the way in which the fear stays with the characters -- such as Sebastian's unease around a war relief organization, even once he's living in Australia -- is subtly but powerfully portrayed. Real-life images of the plight of refugees are shown at the end of the movie, as a further reminder that these stories mostly go unseen without documentation, but also that they continue to go on and have a lasting effect on people all over the world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of war as portrayed in Hearts and Bones. Discuss the role of documenting wars and the moral complexities surrounding it. How to talk to kids about violence, crime, and war.

  • What similarities are there between Dan and Sebastian's experiences? Did the movie give you a better understanding of PTSD?

  • What other films have shown the experience of refugees settled in a new country?

Movie details

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