Well-intended redemption drama features great performances by leads Brian Cox and Paul Dano

The Good Heart

on March 24, 2010 by Pete Hammond
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Odd but endearing, The Good Heart has just exactly that—a good heart—mixed with a simplistic story that comes recommended as a showcase for two fine actors at the top of their game. Brian Cox is the eccentric, heart attack prone owner of a rundown neighborhood bar who takes in the homeless and suicidal Paul Dano, offering him a new lease on life. A Magnolia pickup from Toronto International Film Festival, this title should play well at various fests before finding a small but receptive audience in select arthouse engagements. Best bet for profits lay down the line on DVD and cable runs.

Cox, a terminally underrated actor incapable of a bad performance, dominates the action as Jacques, the sourpuss owner of a dark, rundown New York dive bar that draws a pathetic group of regulars. His patrons seem to have nothing better to do than sit around and drive the curmudgeonly barkeep crazy. As a victim of multiple heart attacks, Jacques smokes, drinks and frequently works himself into a lather. During one hospital visit he hooks up with Lucas (Dano), a homeless and hopeless young man who has given up on life but takes a turn for the better when a suicide attempt fails and doctors save his life. He becomes so grateful for his second chance at life, Lucas eagerly signs up for the Hospital’s organ donor program. Jacques decides to mentor him and gives him a job as a bartender. Jacques is a guy set in his ways and decides to turn Lucas into a fitting heir for his jaded view of the world from his bar. Lucas, however, sees things differently and really does appear to have a good soul. Accompanied by a pet duck, Jacques’ German shepherd and a hopeful attitude things progress without complication, until April (Isild Le Besco), another homeless creature, happens into Lucas’ life and causes a rift between the two men. Jacques wants no part of her but the innocent Lucas insists on helping her, leading to some unlikely events and complications neither man sees coming.

Writer/Director Dagur Kari, an Icelandic talent with a sharp ear for colorful off-the-wall dialogue (i.e. “for a billion dollars I will give a scenic tour of my anal canals”) and an eye for finding a ray of sunshine in the darkest corners of humanity, has crafted a small but unique story about two disparate souls who merge at the moment of truth and save each other from themselves. Although some of this is just too literal and the ending a bit unsatisfying in its obvious simplemindedness, The Good Heart is redeemed as a wonderful opportunity for memorable character studies courtesy of both Cox and Dano who make this pair of uniquely interesting individuals people we are glad we got to know.

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Brian Cox, Paul Dano and Isild Le Besco
Director/Screenwriter: Dagur Kari
Producers: Skuli Fr. Malmquist and Thor Sigurjonsson
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and a disturbing image.
Running time: 95 min.
Release date: April 30 NY/LA

Tags: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Isild Le Besco, Dagur Kari, romance, drama
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