The shallow documentary “Broken Harts” examines a tragic crime: In March, 2018, the Washington couple Jennifer and Sarah Hart killed their six adopted children by driving off a California cliff. At first, authorities assumed the car crash was an accident. Further investigation revealed that the women had been abusing their children, and had premeditated the plunge as an act of family annihilation.
Based on a podcast by Glamour, “Broken Harts” (streaming on Discovery+) unfolds as a patchwork of true-crime clichés. After opening with a montage of sinister sound bites, the movie delves into the crash and the revelations that occurred in the days and weeks following. The details are juicy enough, but as the story continues, the investigation timeline starts to feel like superficial framing for the story.
More compelling — and more challenging — are the racial and economic factors underpinning the tragedy. Jennifer and Sarah, both white, adopted the six children of color. The two went on to use social media and community platforms to curate a picture of harmony, vitality and bliss. The women’s posturing was calculated: Their idyllic facade concealed a pattern of neglect and abuse occurring behind closed doors.
The movie, directed by Gregory Palmer, finds its footing in interviews with the journalist Zaron Burnett. He discusses how the Harts sold an image of white saviorism, and then he expands their story to highlight the systems that enabled their behavior. Burnett’s analysis is sharp, and his words leave a possibility hanging in the air — that with a bolder and broader framework, “Broken Harts” might have been more than fast food for true-crime obsessives.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. Watch on Discovery+.