The Good Heart – DVD Review

A prestige movie attempts to go beyond typical Hollywood storytelling. The focus tends to be on character and the plot stays at a very human, very personal level. These are the highbrow pictures that supposedly elevate the film genre to the level of art, but what many either fail to realize or blatantly ignore is that prestige pictures often fall prey to the same bugaboos of so-called lowbrow movies: clichéd plots and stock characters.

Jacques (Brian Cox) owns and operates one of the seediest, most depressing bars in all of New York (and that’s saying something). He lives alone, save for his dog, and other than running his business his sole occupation seems to be professional asshole. This would be all well and good except his heart can’t take the bile it’s pumping, and at the beginning of the movie Jacques ends up in the hospital after just suffering from his fifth heart attack. Unsurprisingly, Jacques begins to think about his legacy, and with no heir, he decides to take in Lucas (Paul Dano), a homeless man he meets in the hospital.

Like a cranky, faux-racist Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jacques teaches Lucas the fine arts of bartending and crotchetiness all the while slinging drinks to his quirky, semi-disturbing regulars. Among his patrons is a florist, a garbage man, what I’m guessing is a gigolo, and a writer claiming to be Jules Verne’s great grandson. They float in and out of the bar, saying quirky things and pounding back the booze.

Quirkiness is the hallmark of a prestige film, and The Good Heart is no different. Everybody in this movie is off-kilter to varying degrees, and movie almost takes it for granted that the characters are going to be a bit strange, because there’s no backstory at all. No reason is given for Jacques’ bitterness or Lucas’ desire to cut himself off from the world. They just are, and this decision to ignore the characters’ history works against the movie. Taking away the backdrop of history takes away the impact of the changes the characters experience during the course of the movie. Sure, Lucas may learn to reconnect with society and Jacques may learn to open his heart, but without knowing why they were the way they were before, it seems almost arbitrary, even a bit fatalistic. They change because they are characters in a movie and that’s all.

That brings me to the big problem I have with The Good Heart: it’s predictable. I knew how the movie was going to end ten minutes into the film; I could have drawn a flow chart of the movie’s plot right then and there and been 90% right. A formulaic plot doesn’t necessarily make for a bad movie—there are plenty of formula pictures out there that are loads of fun—but a movie has to have something to set it apart; striking visuals, brilliant dialogue, or fantastic acting. What The Good Heart has going for it is great acting, especially Brian Cox’s performance, but that’s about it. It was enough to make this an enjoyable movie to watch, but honestly, if I didn’t have to review it I probably would have turned it off.

The movie is presented in Widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0; Spanish subtitles are provided for non-English speakers. In terms of quality the movie looks and sounds fine with no discernable problems.

The two extras on this DVD are the obligatory behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries that don’t really add to the movie-watching experience. They’re the DVD equivalent of garnish and should be avoided.

Behind the Scenes of The Good Heart
HDNet: A Look at The Good Heart

While the acting here is definitely excellent, there’s nothing else to really recommend this movie for. The characters are cliché, the plot formulaic, and overall it’s just not that interesting. Not recommended.

Magnolia Pictures presents The Good Heart. Directed by: Dagur Kari. Starring: Brian Cox, Paul Dano, and Isild Le Basco. Written by: Dagur Kari. Running time: 99 Minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: August 10, 2010.

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