The Good Heart (Director: Dagur Kári): I’ve long been a fan of Icelandic cinema, and when I caught Dagur Kári’s first film Nói Albínói (review) at TIFF in 2003, I made a note to keep an eye out for his work. The Good Heart is Kári’s first film in four years, and also his first in English.
Brian Cox plays Jacques, the cantankerous owner of a dive bar in one of New York City’s grimiest neighbourhoods. In hospital after his fifth coronary, he meets Lucas (Paul Dano), a homeless young man who’s recovering from a failed suicide attempt. Looking for someone to take over the bar when he finally succumbs, he takes Lucas in and begins teaching him the very particular rules by which he governs his business: no new customers, don’t get too friendly with the regulars, and especially, no women. You can see where this is headed.
Lucas and Jacques get along fabulously until late one rainy night when April (Isild Le Besco), a distraught stewardess who’s afraid of flying, walks into the bar. She begs Lucas to let her stay, and he does, but as soon as Jacques finds out he’s furious. Lucas is pulled first one way and then the other; he impulsively marries April at her request, and then throws her out at Jacques’ request. He’s maddeningly passive throughout, and by the time the story reaches its superficially surprising and yet essentially predictable end, we still know very little about these characters.
For instance, there is almost no dialogue between Lucas and April, so their sudden marriage seems ludicrous. The character arc of Jacques is crudely simple as well: of course, he has a heart of gold, even if it’s failing. The bar’s regular patrons are a bunch of quirky cartoons, completely unrelated to real people. Despite some funny stretches (including a gag involving broccoli), the dialogue seems sketched in, as does the plot. The film checks off a number of “indie” boxes, but fails to rise above the trite and mediocre script. Cox and Dano are fine actors, but each seems to be playing a character they’ve played many times before, while the lovely Le Besco is completely wasted. I did like the use of a washed-out colour palette, and the bar set is remarkably authentic, but overall, I found myself disappointed.
Reviewer Jay Kerr’s Take: The Good Heart is a decent film but I found it to be a tad pedestrian. None of the roles are particularly challenging for any of the actors involved and the plot is a little thin in places. There is little to no back-story to any of the characters which is frustrating at times. Things happen that seem absurd – Lucas and April get married on a whim and then Lucas kicks her out of the bar when she flirts with a customer.
Most of the action takes place in the bar which takes on a character of its own. The dim lighting and moldy walls provide the perfect setting for this story. There are several interesting characters at the bar and some of the dialogue is quite funny but overall, it falls short of the mark for me. Apparently Brian Cox doesn’t view his own work, in which case he isn’t missing much by not watching The Good Heart.