Mark Reviews Movies


1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dagur Kári

Cast: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Isild Le Besco

MPAA Rating: R (for language and a disturbing image)

Running Time: 1:35

Release Date: 4/30/10 (limited); 5/7/10 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 6, 2010

The Good Heart moves unstoppably toward frustration. Writer/director Dagur Kári obviously started with the ending of his script and worked backwards. There is no other way to explain the lame O. Henry ending, which should be dripping with irony except that a single, harmless exchange early on telegraphs exactly what will happen.

Twist in hand, Kári spends the extended time in between the windup and the pitch creating the atmosphere and personality of a dive bar and its staff and customers. It's almost enough to occasionally forget where the story is inevitably heading and the sharp turns Kári has to make to get there.

A major part of the middle section's momentary successes comes from the strong performances of common characterizations from Brian Cox and Paul Dano.

Cox plays Jacques, a foul-mouthed misanthrope who owns and runs a bar on the drabbest street in New York City. Jacques has a bad heart beyond his personality, and when he first appears on screen, he has another in a series of heart attacks (after becoming aggravated by a relaxation tape, no less).

Dano is Lucas, a homeless kid who lives in a cardboard box on another dreary street. Lucas has a kind heart, caring for a stray kitten with his cat food dinner and handing out the money he comes across to the other people in the food line. His hands are always slightly raised, as though anticipating warding off an attack. When he talks, it's in hushed tones, as his voice hasn't had the same workout as Jacques'.

The two end up sharing the same hospital room (after Lucas attempts suicide), and Jacques, despite his hateful tendencies, enjoys spending time with the kid. After being released from the hospital, Jacques finds Lucas, brings him to the bar, and tells him he will be the new owner of the bar after Jacques' pending death.

The scenes of Jacques teaching Lucas the ropes of running a bar are enjoyable. The regulars come in at their regular time, order their regular drinks, and have their regular conversations. Jacques knows what they want and tells Lucas he needs to learn what the customers want before they even know they want it. Be familiar but not friendly, he tells the kid. "We're not here to save people; we're here to destroy them," he goes on.

This, of course, is contrary to Lucas' view of the world. He brings in his homeless friends from the street to drink his failed attempts at brewing Jacques' ideal kind of coffee. He asks the regulars about their lives and families. When a pretty flight attendant named April (Isild Le Besco) comes into the bar after closing time in tears, he lets her in and opens up a bottle of champagne (It's only for major sports victories, Jacques complains later), so she can tell her story of being fired for her fear of flying. Yeah, right.

When April shows up, it's all downhill for Jacques, Lucas, and the mild good grace the movie has earned with its bartending tips. April needs a place to stay, Lucas falls for her (for no reason except that she's the only woman Jacques has ever allowed in the bar), and she becomes a regular.

At this point, Kári's extension of the yarn's beginning and end has run its course, leaving Lucas to take on Jacques' cynicism and Jacques to make a quick, inexplicable turnaround. Taking in the kid is the first step, but there are a few others missing here before he starts liking April (after making his opinion of women in general quite evident with a few, well-chosen, nasty phrases) and spares the Christmas duck they've been raising in the bar (The health inspectors must have deemed this place a lost cause a long time ago).

Cox can't make the transition believable, because it's so out-of-character. Still, he delivers his rants and raves and strings of profanity at any available target with acidic precision.

Then the finale of The Good Heart comes along just as expected. It's not only cloying and predictable but also foolish and obnoxious.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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