The Good Heart (Dagur Kári, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Brian Livesay. Viewed at the Cinema Society screening, Riviera Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA.

The Good Heart is a “yet to be released” film that was written and directed  by Dagur Kari starring Brian Cox and Paul Dano. Brian Cox portrays an aging bar owner named Jacques, who is struggling  to keep his terrible temper in check. He actively tries to lower his stress levels by listening to self-help tapes before going to sleep each night. One evening while doing this, he gets so frustrated and angry that he  rips his tapes to shreds in a fit of rage. While throwing a fit, he has a heart attack and falls to the floor in debilitating pain and eventually wakes up in the hospital. 

Jacques is portrayed as a mean and nasty, heavy drinking/smoking bar owner who cusses at every given opportunity. Despite these character flaws, he does have a strong will to live. This is in direct opposition to the character played by his co-star Paul Dano.

Paul Dano plays Lucas, who is an impressionable young homeless man who, as fate would have it, ends up sharing a hospital room with Jaques. While introducing themselves, Jacques tells Lucas that he had a heart attack. Lucas informs Jacque that he was admitted to the hospital due to a failed suicide attempt. Jacques voices his disaproval by condescendingly commenting that he fights to stay alive while some moron tries to take his own life. After insulting Lucas, Jacques contradictingly pulls out a pack of cigarettes from his robe and prepares to light one up. Only one problem. If he lights it up, the smoke detector just outside the room will go off immediately prmpting the nurses to come running.  

Jacques has devised a way around this. Influencing his impressionable new friend, he tells Lucas to disconnect the smoke alarm. He provides him with detailed and intricate instructions on how to accomplish this indicating that this is not the first time that he has broken the rules. Lucas complies without an argument which starts a friendship between the two.

Despite Jacque’s heart attack he continues his mean and nasty streak continually cussing and swearing at the nurses. They come right back with insults and show a strong level of contempt for him. One nurse, fed up with his constant insults, tells him that she wishes he would drop dead! You have to be a special kind of person to make your nurse angry enough at you to tell you that. : )

Lucas on the other hand has a sweet demeanor. He is a bit clueless but he has a good heart. He is very thankful to the hospital staff for saving his life and genuinely wants to show them gratitude in some way, insisting on doing something to repay them.  They apparently like him as well and all chip in to give him a nice chunk of cash to help get him back on to his feet when he is released. He takes this money and goes back out on the streets and shares his limited funds with all of the homeless in the area showing how much of a character contrast he is in reference to his buddy Jacques.

When Jacques learns that Lucas has been released, he sets off on a journey to track down his new found companion. He eventually finds Lucas sleeping in a box and tells him to get in his car. He doesn’t really give Lucas much time to protest and this type of  “do as I say” relationship may be exactly what Lucas needs to get his life together.

Jacques is not doing this out of the kindness of his heart though, he needs someone to run his bar when he passes away and decides that Lucas will be his prodigy.

Jacques proceeds to show Lucas the ins and outs of the business and how to run it when he is gone. This appears to be Jacques last opportunity to leave a legacy behind and he is seizing that moment. They stay in separate rooms located directly above the bar.

Transitioning to his new life proves to be quite a chore for Lucas who is so used to sleeping on the streets that he actually crawls out of bed and sleeps on the hard floor in order to be comfortable.

 The bar is pretty shabby, but has a loyal following, whom Jacques really caters to. He dispises new customers or walk-ins as he refers to them, and tries to be obnoxiously rude to them so that that they don’t come back essentially running them out. He shows Lucas everything from how to treat customers, to how to make the perfect cup of epresso. Jacques is such a prefectionist and has such pride in his business, that he makes Lucas pour dozens of cups in order to get the flavor just right.

Everything seems to be going smoothly when April who is played by French Actress Isild Le Besco arrives on the scene. She has nowhere to stay and influences Lucas to help her out. She walks into the bar after hours during a terrible storm and requests a glass of champagne. This slightly odd request in such an unpretentious establishment is odd but her beauty prompts Lucas to quickly crack open a bottle and pour her a glass. She convinces him to let her stay the night and he does so knowing that Jacques will be upset when he finds out.

When Jacques does find out, he insists that she leave. Lucas won’t allow it which causes turmoil and creates a charged atmosphere not only between Jacques and Lucas, but also within the bar itself. The all male clientele aren’t used to having such a pretty young woman around and it really upsets the balance and sense of normality found at the bar.

By refusing to kick April out of the bar, Lucas stands up for himself for the first time and doesn’t back down which really irritates Jacques. Finally something gives when Lucas sees her flirting with one of the customers, he gets the nerve to kick her out and tells her never to come back.

When he tells Jacques the news, his reaction indicates that he actually liked her and he tels Lucas that he thought that she did some things better than a lot of the sissy men that were in his bar.

This scene shows the beginning of a role reversal of the two. As Lucas learns and adjusts to bar life, he adapts and becomes a little tougher while Jacques, who is getting older starts coming to terms with his eventual death, starts to lighten up a bit.

Jacque’s health continues to decline but he is given a glimmer of hope when the doctor provides him with a cell phone that will ring in the event that a good heart is available for transplant. The doctor insists that he stop drinking and smoking because he is getting a tremendous opportunity at the possiblity of receiving a heart transplant. While the argumentative Jacques agrees with the doc, it’s not enough to get him to stop smoking.

I provided a brief introduction to the story and characters withoug giving away too much of the plot. I left out some key pieces that are best left to be experienced by watching the film. .

I thought this film did many things well. The story and character interaction flows freely throughout the film and nothing seems forced. WHile I have provided a good idea of the premise, the real beauty of this film is in the details. Brian Cox plays his role so well that the audience is engaged and captivated by the first scene. This high level of captivation does not relent at all during the entire duration of the film. Watching the characters progress and transform is both entertaining and highly engaging. I haven’t been this entertained with a film in quite some time.

The crass humour and deep interaction among the characters, creates a light hearted and relaxed atmosphere in the film. The cast and director did a superb job at capturing the hearts and minds of the audience resulting in laughter in some of the more light hearted moments, cringing at the site of some scenes, while also providing a strong emotional response from the audience when things get heavy.

I highly recommend seeing this film when it is released in the U.S. on April 30, 2010. I am looking forward to introducing my friends and family to it and I hope that everyone enjoy it as much as I did.

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