Racist, homophobic and a megacrank, Brian Cox’s Jacques, the owner of a scummy New York bar, stops short of clubbing baby seals.
He curses at prospective buyers. He calls a nurse a “chinky Oriental.” And when his regulars, a troupe of freaks who wouldn’t find acceptance anywhere else, buy him a birthday cake he bans them.
Jacques’ token bright spot is shy homeless kid Lucas (Paul Dano), who’s so Jacques’ polar opposite that he’s introduced feeding a stray kitten.
As Lucas is installed in Jacques’ spare room and behind the bar, is it really so long before this curmudgeon, suffers a change of heart? Literally: Icelandic writer/director Dagur Kári (Nói) gives Jacques a bad heart that will soon need replacement, as if his dickishness weren’t enough to hip us to his lack of decency.
Good Heart has a problem with redemption symbolism, and tries to float along on the absurdly grimy look and the misanthropy of its protagonist, which is mostly milked. But it’s a joke that can’t sustain itself, even with as talented an actor as Cox, and neither our one-note unlikable protagonist nor his thinly veiled paternal feelings for Lucas develop past the set-up.
When all else fails, Kári throws Lucas a girlfriend (Benoît Jacquot regular Isild de Besco), but she serves only to be mistreated, first by Jacques, then by the filmmaker himself, who pulls a Cruel God prank in the final moments.
Cox so rarely scores lead that it’s tempting to recommend Good Heart solely for him. Tough call.
We’re denied the nature-doc staples: no music, no soothing narration by Morgan Freeman and, best yet, no anthropomorphizing.
Sadly, the second installment feels like four films crammed into one.
Not even Jodie Foster and Neil Jordan could make this vigilante bullshit work.