The Good Heart

poster the good heart

B-

Directed by Dagur Kári
Starring: Brian Cox and Paul Dano

There is a bar down the street from you, maybe only blocks away, with blacked out windows and a Hamm’s or Old-Style neon hanging half-crooked and buzzing. More than likely, you’ve never been inside. Someone drinks there; it’s been open for as long as you’ve been alive.

This is the setting of The Good Heart — a cheerless back-alley bar in NYC. A place we all know, some more intimately than others. In here everyone still knows your name, but no one cares. Jacques (Brian Cox) is not Sam Malone. Rather a borderline OCD, train-wreck of a human, who rages at the sight of birthday cake and flies into tyrannical fits of anger while listening to self-relaxation tapes.

The tapes do nothing to calm Jacques’ stress-addled heart and he ends up hospital roomies with a mousy, suicidal vagrant named Lucas. We learn quickly that this isn’t Jacques first rodeo as he talks his new friend through the task of hot-wiring the hospital’s smoke alarms. Predicated on this bit of espionage, a loose friendship begins to form. A few gruff conversations later, Jacques, sensing his mortality, chooses Lucas as heir to his rat-plagued boozery.

Having only the choice of either the pavement or a broken-down cantina, Lucas signs up for the task of inheritor. Their relationship is a constant battle between the inherent kindness of Lucas and the lifetime of cynicism bottled up in Jacques. The seas gets even rougher when Lucas befriends a homeless french stewardess.

You will know the ending well before you should. It won’t surprise, not that the story warrants a surprise, but the finale is so blatantly telegraphed the audience has no other way to turn. I really like that the director chose not to give away any details of the characters’ back stories, allowing us to use our own imaginations to determine why and how these two characters became so flawed. It would have been nice to see some of that subtlety used in other ways.

I will say there is the most intelligent conversation about farts in the history of film. I’ll leave it at that.

The photography is well suited. The outdoor scenes are extremely bright and desaturated. It always feels like you just walked out of a dark theater… or bar. It might be the most perfect blue-skied daydream of an afternoon, but these characters only see the world in two or three shades.

Brian Cox has the kind of face needed for the role. The hate is packaged up neatly in every crook and crevice. There is not a lot of room to meander in Dagur Kári’s explicitly planned script, but Cox does a nice job filling out the role in other ways. In the end, the film doesn’t take you anywhere you didn’t know you were headed to begin with. B-

tags: brian cox, dagur kari, paul dano, the good heart

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