The Good Heart -- Film Review

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"The Good Heart" is a character study but you won't like these characters very much. They are creatures of fiction -- and shamelessly sentimental fiction at that. What happens to them is carefully plotted -- you'll certainly see most of it coming -- so that no sense of life with its messy, haphazard ways intrudes.

This film by Dagur Kari does feature performances by the brilliant film actor Brian Cox and the up-and-coming Paul Dano so the film is not without interest to festival goers. It doesn't look to have much potential anywhere else beyond cable TV.

In many ways, Kari's screenplay cries out to be a play. Most of the action takes place in a very stagy bar, supposedly in New York, that has been meticulously dressed to look forlorn and ill kept. You're meant to smell the stale beer and urine. Its misanthropic owner/bartender is Cox's Jacques. He too has been designed and dressed so he looks something like Charles Bukowski on a bad day.

The man is dying of heart failure although not fast enough to suit nurses at a hospital where he is taken with his fifth heart attack. There he meets a young homeless man, the meek Lucas (Dano), who has failed in a suicide attempt.

As you would expect, Jacques takes Lucas under his wing to learn the tavern trade so he might inherit the stink hole once Jacques dies. What Jacques must overcome is Lucas' natural tendency to be helpful and friendly. The bar's rules are simple: No new customers, no fraternizing with the olds ones and, most importantly, no women.

Naturally, a woman walks through the door. Like Lucas, April (Isild Le Besco) is a lost lamb. She's a French flight attendant with a fear of flying so she lost her job and appears clueless how to get back across the Atlantic.

Naturally, Jacques pitches a fit, Lucas discovers his backbone -- he even marries her on the spur of the moment -- but Kari's script contrives that Lucas has acquired enough of Jacques' distrust of human kind to throw April out eventually. Which actually upsets Jacques.

So you get it? Lucas has grown hostile and bitter while Jacques has become all sensitive and touchy-feely. Naturally, April finds her way back to the bar -- on New Year's Eve. Do you believe any of this? Do you even want to know about the goose bought for Christmas dinner that winds up a pet in the bar?

One can take perverse pleasure in watching three good actors trying to make incredible nonsense work. No matter how hard they try though, nothing comes to life.

Other cast members are like a touring company of "Cheers": These are the regulars who daily occupy the same seats, drink the same drinks, have the same arguments and get thrown out by Jacques whenever he feels in the mood.

Nothing feels authentic here including a bar that is often closed and caters only to a handful of customers in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. Cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek tries to bleed much color from the screen to make everything look gritty and therefore real but it won't wash.

The final blow is an ending of such treacle -- and, again, predictability -- as to give new meaning to shamelessness.

Production companies: Zik Zak Filmworks/Nimbus Film/Ex Nihilo/Network Movies/Forensic Films
Cast: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, Islid Le Besco, Clark Middleton, Damian Young
Director/screenwriter: Dagur Kari
Producers: Skull Malmquist, Thor Sigurjonsson
Executive producers: Scott Macauley, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
Director of photography: Rasmus Videbaek
Production designer: Halfdan Pedersen
Music: Dagur Kari, Orri Jonsson
Costume designer: Helga Ros Hannam
Editor: Andri Steinn Guomundsson
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 99 minutes