STUDIO: Magnolia
MSRP: $26.98
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
  • Behind the Scenes of The Good Heart
  • HDNet: A Look at The Good Heart

The Pitch

The Good Heart (Spoilers!)

The Humans

Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Isild Le Besco. Written and Directed by Dagur Kari

The Nutshell

Brian Cox plays Jacques, a sour curmudgeon with a bum ticker and operator of a New York City dive. Paul Dano is Lucas, a young homeless man who signs up to be an organ donor within the first ten minutes. Jacques takes a liking to Lucas. If you can’t guess what happens by the end, you’re naïve.

This was one of those magic moments they’d both been waiting for. 2 strangers meet in a bar. Sparks fly. Love is evident. Nothing will ever be the same again. They are no longer strangers, but with one look they are friends. Lovers. Soul mates.

The Lowdown

The Good Heart is a sweet and understated film, and it is these two qualities that are the film’s greatest strengths. If the film played all of its sweetness on its sleeve then it would be overbearingly schmaltzy. The film exercises an impressive amount of restraint considering it’s a well-worn story of a grizzled old man being touched by a younger soul. But it is this restraint that keeps the film grounded on a very human level, allowing the viewer to connect to the burgeoning relationship. It invites the viewer in as opposed to asking the viewer to step back and observe overly emotional or overly quirky proceedings.

Brian Cox leaned back and smiled. His transformation into Michael Gambon was complete.

Jacques and Lucas meet in a hospital room after Jacques’ umpteenth heart attack and Lucas’ failed suicide attempt. Jacques and Lucas are on either end of the spectrum of human character: Jacques is distant and cold, gruff and off-putting whereas Lucas is humble, kind and warm. Somehow in Lucas Jacques sees someone worthy of calling protégé, and Jacques takes him in to teach him the ways of keeping a dive bar. Their worldviews diverge even more when the sullen April (Isild Le Besco) wanders into the bar. Again, anyone with a basic knowledge of these stories will know how things turn out: The young’s optimism will sweeten and eventually destroy the elder’s pessimism. Then there is the fact that Jacques is living with a bad heart and Lucas volunteers to be an organ donor in the first reel. If the ending is supposed to be a twist, they did a terrible job.

Armed with the film’s basic premise and knowledge of the title, it’s obvious to see where the film is headed. But the film never dwells on any suspense in regards to the ending. I don’t think the film has any pretense of surprising or shocking the audience with its final moments, but rather wants to explore the growing relationship and its effect on the two men. The effect of the heart of one on the heart of the other comes long before the denouement, creating what essentially feels like the emotionally honest version of Seven Pounds. (This term was used as a fictitious example as emphasis.  In reality there is no such thing as an emotionally honest version of Seven Pounds)

Paul Sunday, despondent over his brother’s death, took to drinking and gambling. He wasted the little he made with his own claim on prostitutes and the ponies. He never bowled again.

Brian Cox has long been one of my favorite actors. He presents a fully realized portrayal of a cantankerous old man. Cox bursts with energy throughout the film barreling through scenes with hair that looks like he crawled out from under a rock on the grounds of Hogwarts. (That said: Cox is Scottish, why in the name of all that is sacred has he not been in a Harry Potter film?) His is a performance akin to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart: It carries years of wear on the body; feeling lived in and weighed down. You forget you’re watching a performance and feel as if you’re watching a man hardened by a lifetime of loneliness. Cox finds the undercurrent of pain that comes from constantly pushing everyone away. Not to say that the pushing people away part can’t be amusing. There’s a scene with a “walk-in” at the bar (Jacques prefers to keep his bar stocked with only the regulars) that is both hilarious and revealing. It’s also a testament to Cox as an actor that as big as a jerk as Jacques may be, he is still completely lovable.

Paul Dano does well enough for what the film requires. He plays his usual soft-spoken, shy young man. I’ve never been a fan of Dano’s acting but he was fine in the film. He didn’t do anything to make me overtly dislike his performance. What I’ve never understood is Dano has us much of an actor’s schtick as, say, Michael Cera, yet Dano doesn’t get endless hate for constantly repeating it. It’s just a matter of if you like his schtick or you don’t, if you’re tired of it or if you aren’t. The Dano/Cox reunion here is a nice one, and they have a good chemistry and rapport here. For those curious, there is nothing in their relationship this time to make it a spiritual sequel to their first film together: L.I.E. Sorry to anyone who was hoping for more Cox-as-pedophile action.

Six years of their lives and they had nothing more to say to each other. Six years and it was over in the same place it began. “Fitting,” muttered Cheryl under her breath.

Icelandic writer/director Dagur Kari creates a wonderfully lived-in film. Much like this year’s fantastic Winter’s Bone, every setting here feels inhabited. Kari begins immediately creating a strong ambience with the opening scenes: Two lonesome people set to the film’s sparse, muted score. (Apparently Kari’s band Slowblow did the music for the film which is excellent) He continues building this environment alternating bleak, overexposed lighting with the dark and grungy bar. The film’s near dreary environment is a benefit when paired with its underplayed emotional palette. In any other film much of the film’s interactions would be relentlessly quirky or sentimental, but with the bleak environment and the established tone it remains relatable, enjoyable, sweet and entertaining. It also helps that Kari rarely lingers on things, allowing the viewer to sense what is important. Kari never beats us over the head with it. Moments like Lucas’ first night with a bed where he opts to sleep on the floor instead are shown briefly, just long enough to make its point, but never long enough to feel as if it’s trying to make a point.

Emotional with out demanding it, funny without forcing, sweet without becoming cloying, The Good Heart is a wonderfully human film. The end of the film ends as slightly as it began: Understated and poignant.


The Package

The Good Heart is scant on special features. The first is about an 8-minute featurette of behind the scenes footage. It’s kind of fun to watch, but there is not much to it. There’s no real structure to it, just raw footage strung together. The other featurette is a more standard “Behind the Scenes” look with talking head interviews with the cast interspersed with film footage. It’s basically and extended trailer. Other than that there’s nothing.

8.0 out of 10


For years afterward he would come to this spot. It only made him miss Cheryl more.