Jacques (Brian Cox) is a cantankerous old bastard, the owner of a lousy NYC bar that attracts a handful of equally grizzled regulars. Lucas (Paul Dano) is a young homeless guy who sleeps under a bridge. They both meet in a hospital one night after Jacques has another heart attack (he’s had a few) and Lucas tries to commit suicide. Jacques takes a liking to this kid and seems to see a bit of himself in him, so when they both get out he tracks him down and offers him a job at the bar, as well as room and board.
Jacques starts training Lucas on what it’s like to be the owner of a hole-in-the-wall bar that doesn’t cater to anyone but the regular crowd, and indeed, does everything in its power to convince passers-by that it’s not a good idea to drink there. Jacques teaches him the tricks of the trade and is pleased with his choice of apprentice, and tells Lucas that he plans on giving the bar to him after he passes away. But their view on life couldn’t be more different- while the young man turns out to have a pretty positive worldview and tries to be friendly to everyone, the old man knows you can’t rely on anyone but yourself and shouldn’t even bother to be nice.
Both their lives are turned a bit upside down after a woman (Isild Le Besco) comes into the bar (shock!) and starts a relationship with Lucas, much to Jacques’ dismay.
The Good Heart is a cute, sentimental film with a dark streak and quite a bit of a bite to it. Only Brian Cox could take such a miserable, vulgar, racist asshole and make him a lovable and memorable character. The best part of the film is easily his performance, watching this tough old guy eventually break down and let a little love into his heart. Paul Dano is excellent as well, comfortable in his usual quiet, understated role. The back and forth between the two is exceptional, the characters likable, even if everyone else in the film is a cardboard cutout bar patron.
But you know where the film is going from the start. It’s called “The Good Heart”, Paul Dano’s character signs up as an organ donor in the first minutes, and Brian Cox’s character has a bad heart. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the story is headed. It all culminates in the expected climax and ends without fanfare in a quiet and thoughtful ending.
Sure it doesn’t break new ground, yes it’s predictable, but it’s Brian Cox being relentlessly entertaining as a man who always has a one liner,
always has something to gripe about, and seeing him here in a “Get off
my lawn!” role is enough to, well… warm your heart.