The Good Heart

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For his first English-language film, Icelander Dagur Kári appears to be under the spell of Jim Jarmusch and Charles Bukowski, with tips on elevated diction from Damon Runyon. Irascible crank Jacques (Brian Cox) owns the dingiest dive bar you've ever seen, where an eccentric crew of regulars (a florist, a garbage-truck driver, a would-be novelist) huddle and shoot the shit when Jacques isn't berating them in florid language or temporarily banning them from the premises.

But Jacques has a bad heart condition (symbolic title alert!) and worries about passing on his legacy. So he takes in suicidal, homeless Lucas (Paul Dano), who is such a blank slate that he wouldn’t register at all if it weren’t for Dano’s aggressive use of awkward postures to convey character. (Honestly, at times it looks as if he’s going to pull a muscle from acting so hard.) Cox, meanwhile, is going for shabby grandiloquent misanthropy, and plays every curmudgeonly grimace to the balcony seats. Jacques tries to remake Lucas in his own bitter image, but a flight attendant with a fear of flying (Isild Le Besco) disrupts their equilibrium.

Quirk and sentimentality battle for supremacy, and all that’s missing to make this a perfect throwback to the worst indulgences of early ’90s indie cinema is a theremin in the score. Instead we get tinny piano and some cellos. Close enough.

By: Hank Sartin

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