The Good Heart

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 11, 2010

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Grade: C

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.

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