Review: The Good Heart
PLOT: Jacques is a bitter and rough old man who is facing the end of his years thanks to a weak heart. When he happens upon a young, homeless man, he takes an interest in him and brings him home. Once there, he cleans him up and begins to train him as a bartender. As the two become accustomed to each other, a loyal friendship begins. That is until a stewardess named Alice arrives and Lucas takes her in. The more time the two men share, they begin to see things in a different light and change their views of the world.
Let’s get the negative out of the way. When it comes to THE GOOD HEART, there is not a whole lot of mystery surrounding what you are getting. For starters, the two main characters meet in the hospital for very different reasons. One of them is there because of a bad heart. And as the film progresses, it is clear the direction they are heading, with no real surprise once you get there. Even the final few minutes feel as if there should’ve been something more than what happens. Emotionally, it felt like it was too simple and almost cold. But even with the negative, I have to say that there is something truly special and honest in writer/director Dagur Kári’s feature. As the films writer he only seldom offers any real surprise, but you know what they say, sometimes it is all about the journey. And what a journey it is.
When a bar owner named Jacques (Brian Cox) ends up in the hospital due to his faulty heart, he meets a young man with a deer in the headlights gaze. Lucas (Paul Dano) has been living on the streets. He has very few possessions; most he would willingly give away if asked. And he also has a single friend, a kitten that wanders the dark and damp streets, alone as well. This is a sad life and even sadder that he is young and seems to have what you could call a good heart. When the two men are placed together in a hospital room (I won’t give away why Lucas is there), they somehow become friends. Yet this doesn’t feel like an odd couple situation. Jacques is a bitter man who still sees something in Lucas. Lucas is simply a man who feels that his life is worth very little and those around him are worth more. But as the two become friends, it is absolutely believable, and even quite touching.
Last year, Brian Cox gave a phenomenal performance in a small movie called THE ESCAPIST which very few people saw. It’s a shame too; because I have a feeling many won’t see THE GOOD HEART either. In both films, Cox takes on very challenging characters and makes them sympathetic and real. And not surprisingly, both he and Dano are perfect together, being that the two won critical praise in L.I.E. back in 2001. But this time, the two actors have grown and so has their incredibly inspired chemistry. As Jacques takes Lucas in and makes him an employee of the bar, the two soon begin to share an almost father and son relationship. But to simply label it as such would be shortchanging what the two actors bring to the screen.
Now we all know how great Brian Cox is, and this is no exception. But what about Paul Dano? Yes, I mentioned that the two actors are terrific together, but it is Dano that really amazed me. His performance is remarkable as he seems like a true lost soul in this big, bad world. His warm-hearted nature is really a breath of fresh air. I believed one hundred percent that this man would do anything to help anyone. I did question how someone as pure and good could survive on the streets, but in many ways, his Lucas is not surviving. When Jacques takes him in to train him to work at the bar, and keep a roof over his head, it was so incredibly touching. But that’s not to say that this is sentimental and sloppy. There is a honest nature about The Good Heart. And much of that beauty exists thanks to Dano’s charismatic performance.
If you’ve ever heard the song “The Bar is a Beautiful Place”, I challenge you to find a more appropriate tune. The regulars that inhabit Jacques bar are all colorful yet felt as real as could be. This is not merely some sort of working class fantasy, this looks and feels like the real deal. I also have to mention the lone female who stumbles into this place, and causes a whole lot of mess. Isild Le Besco is a nice addition as April. And like so many others here, she seems to have lost her place in the world. There are some very inspired casting choices here. Much like the dark and dreary atmosphere, it all builds to be a very surprising drama that adds enough humor to not beat down too hard on the audience. While I wish that there had been less predictability and maybe a tad more satisfying end, it is Cox and Dano and their incredible performances that shine. My rating 8.5/10 -- JimmyO