Review: ‘The Good Heart’

A grungy look at down-and-outers as corny as anything mainstream Hollywood has ever concocted.

“The Good Heart” is arthouse hokum, a grungy look at down-and-outers as corny as anything mainstream Hollywood has ever concocted. Brian Cox is fun to watch as an old-time Skid Row bartender so curmudgeonly he’s adorable, but the stylistic approach of Icelandic helmer Dagur Kari (“Noi albinoi”) is the opposite of slick. Result is a picture too simplistic and sentimental for art seekers and too rough for general auds, leaving it in a commercial no man’s land.

Young no-hoper Lucas (Paul Dano) and the supremely unhealthy Jacques (Cox) barely survive the first reel, as the young homeless fellow is rescued from a suicide attempt and the old-timer survives his fifth heart attack, much to the disappointment of the hospital nurses he regularly abuses.

Facing his mortality, Jacques decides to make Lucas his protege, giving him a dingy room above his bar and dispensing daily lessons in irascibility. Among the rules: no walk-ins, no befriending the customers (such as they are) and no women. The latter stricture doesn’t pose a problem in this neighborhood until April (Isild Le Besco), a French stewardess, stumbles in from the pouring rain one night and orders champagne.

Once the schism between the two men over the woman appears irreparable, the story veers straight into sitcom territory, with the young lovebirds plotting to run off and get married and the old codger plotting strategies to manipulate them. Climax comes as a bit of a shock, but even that is cloaked in some medical mawkishness that’s beyond hokey.

With a stringy mess of graying hair that makes him resemble Brando in “The Nightcomers,” Cox seizes his vulgar Archie Bunker character with gusto, deliberately alienating everyone he encounters, including his handful of barroom regulars, and daring them not to like it. Dano’s ineffectual naif is a formless blob of little intrinsic interest, a nice-guy foil and sponge for Jacques’ provocations.

Production designer Halfdan Pedersen’s barroom set is fantastic, with a real lived-and-died-in feel. Widescreen lensing is ultra-grainy, with coloration that makes everyone and everything look rather green around the gills.

The Good Heart

Iceland-Denmark-France

Production

A Zik Zak Filmworks production in association with Ex Nihilo, Forensic Films, Network Movies and ZDF/Arte, Nimbus Rights APS, Nordisk Film Shortcut, Palomar Pictures and Wild Bunch. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Skuli Fr. Malmquist, Thor S. Sigurjonsson, Rasmus Videbaek. Executive producers, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Robin O'Hara, Scott Macaulay. Co-producers, Bo Erhardt, Brigitte Skov, Dominique Barneaud, Marc Bordure, Peter Nadermann, in collaboration with Patrick Sobelman. Directed, written by Dagur Kari.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Rasmus Videbaek; editor, Andri Steinn; music, slowblow; production designer, Halfdan Pedersen; art directors, Linda Stefansdottir, Matthew Munn; costume designer, Helga Ros V. Hannam; sound designers (Dolby Digital), Kjartan Kjartansson, Ingvar Lundberg; sound editors, Bjorn Viktorsson, Huldar Freyr Arnarson; line producers, Hlin Johannesdottir, James Price; associate producer, Sigrid Strohmann; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 12, 2009. (Also in Deauville Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN. (English dialogue)

With

Jacques - Brian Cox Lucas - Paul Dano April - Isild Le Besco

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