The most notable thing about the film The Good Heart lies in the stars, Brian Cox and Paul Dano; the former a veteran of television and screen (The Silence of the Lambs, Supertroopers, Running With Scissors) and has amassed over 150 projects to his name; the latter a freshman of sorts though he has graced several top films of merit in recent memory (There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine, Where The Wild Things Are). You won’t find staggering ticket sales listed at Box Office Mojo, or a fresh rating on the tomatometer over at RottenTomato.com; even Roger Ebert has relegated this film to the category of worst film of 2009. Sadly all this is true for the most part, but as a character study you might find something the closer you look, something a bit more than meets the eye. I agree, the story never moves much and the characters are too close to type to provide insight. We meet an old man facing the end of his life who thusly reflects in the final moments of what might come of his legacy, namely a seeded old bar where the booze is as watered down as the patrons, and a young man facing the nothingness of lost ambition on the streets of broken dreams until the aging wreck of a bar keep quite literally stumbles over him and decides for their betterment, to take him in. The story crawls at a snail’s pace and very often gets lost despite occasional flares of good acting. Yet there is this intangible thing that is neither animal nor mineral, surely not vegetable, but something that dwells at the core of the story and perhaps the only thing keeping it from utter failure, that pervades the air as if for the first time in an eternity life might finally crack through the brazen crust of our steel and stone society. It is that something that comes very near heart felt verisimilitude.
I learned after watching the film that the Icelandic director, Dagur Kari had much more success with his previous efforts – a notable debut film called Noi Albino, and following that Dark Horse; neither film in English. Perhaps that is the most telling element of why The Good Heart misses its mark – to suggest something was lost in translation might be too simplistic for some.
The premise is straightforward enough, “A bartender takes a young homeless man under his wing for their own good.” But one is forced to ask, and then what happens? Paul Dano is all too familiar as an introvert and befuddled homeless youth – a role hardly different from Little Miss Sunshine except here he’s given more lines. His best performance can be found in the 2008 epic, There Will Be Blood opposite Daniel Day Lewis. There are a handful of other bit players here but their characters are reduced to background props or plot devices and hardly serve meaningful interactions with the leads.
All in all, The Good Heart wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen lately but it will most likely fade from memory soon enough. There are moments in The Good Heart that border on believable but heavy, sentimental direction prevents a meaningful film from shedding the baggage of inexperience and the gloomy, contrived story falls flat.