The Good Heart

The English-language debut of the talented Icelander Dagur Kári (Noi the Albino) could pass for a movie made in the Seventies. It’s gritty, washed out, and largely driven by dialogue and character. And what characters! Brian Cox is perfectly cast as Jacques, a crude, hard-drinking, chain-smoking New York City bar owner on heart attack number five. (He too appears to be a relic of the Seventies: check out his car, rotary phone, and cassette player.)

During his latest hospital stay he encounters Lucas, a passive young homeless guy (Paul Dano) not even capable of carrying out his own suicide. But somehow, Jacques sees promise in this odd fellow, who a bit reluctantly accepts his offer of accommodation, and allows himself to be groomed as Jacques’s successor. Or rather, is taught the secrets of how to never increase business: absolutely no walk-ins, no being friendly with the customers, and no women.

The relationship of the characters played by Cox and Dano, more innocent than the dynamic the two actors explored nine years ago in L.I.E., makes for an eccentric buddy-film gone right. That a dog and a duck are also part of the mix further testifies to the sharpness of Kári’s script, which steers the action clear of cliché. Even the potentially schematic introduction of a disheveled former stewardess with a fear of flying (Isild Le Besco), turns out to be another element that appeals to the lost soul in all of us.