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HEART OF THE BEHOLDER (director/writer: Ken Tipton; cinematographer: George Mooradian; editor: Dana E. Glauberman; music: Peter Rafelson; cast: Matt Letscher (Mike Howard), Sarah Brown (Diane Howard), Greg Germann (Bob Harris), Arden Myrin (Patty), Chloe Moretz (Molly), Anne Ramsay (Reeba), John Prosky (Reverend Brewer), Tony Todd (Chuck Berry), Michael Dorn (Lt. Larson), John Dye (Eric Manion, DA), Silas Weir Mitchell (Lester), Jason Wiles (Deetz), Priscilla Barnes (Miss Olivia, madam); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ken Tipton/Jeanette Volturno/Arnon Manor; River City Entertainment and Catchlight Films; 2005)
“A disturbing story that is worth telling.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An ugly true incident is filmed in all its sordid details by filmmaker Ken Tipton, who casts an appreciable sympathetic eye on the victims. The low-budget indie film (An 18 day shoot on $500k) is set in St. Louis, and opens in 1980 when computer technician Mike Howard (Matt Letscher) convinces his pregnant nurse wife Diane (Sarah Brown) to put all their life savings into opening up the first videocassette rental store in their hometown. The first employee hired is Patty; their first customer to make a big difference is Chuck Berry, who rents a thousand dollars worth of movies when their business was failing and thereby gets them over the hump. By 1988 Mike’s chain of Video Library rental stores is booming, but trouble is looming from a fundamentalist religious group called Citizens for Decency, led by the rabid Reverend Brewer (John Prosky), who insist on banning videos that arbitrarily don’t meet their approval. After agreeing to pull Hail Mary from their shelves in order to avoid protests and bad publicity, the now multi-million dollar chain refuses to ban Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. It turns out that all the other video stores in St. Louis except Mike’s have caved in to the pressure group and banned the video, which leads the CFD fanatics to use the following tactics against Mike: boycotts, daily protests in front of the store, threats to the store workers causing many to resign, sending piles of illicit junk mail to the Howard’s home as an annoyance, and the final straw is when one of the group’s religious nuts threatens their toddler Molly. The CFD backs the campaigns of crooked DA Eric Manion (John Dye), and as a return favor to the group and because he is being blackmailed by them after they discover he’s a frequent visitor to a house of prostitution, he goes after the Howard’s video stores and confiscates all the videos on the charge that they were dealing in obscene material. Though the store owner was found not guilty, he never could recover financially from that blow and goes bankrupt. The sweet part of the film is in how Mike gets his unexpected revenge on all the parties who tried to ruin his life, even though his business is history.

It’s a disturbing story that is worth telling and making the public aware of the harm done by such outrageous self-righteous vigilante groups, especially when they team-up with self-serving sleazy politicians who are hypocritical about their duties. The earnest and energetic drama, that gets the message right, still can’t hide its overall awkward production values. Nevertheless, the fight of the Howards, decent folks just trying to live out the American Dream, reaches out to the heart of the beholder as intended.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”