The Good Heart (Dagur Kari, 2009): Denmark

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed at the Riviera Theater, Santa Barbara, CA.

Hypnotic, motivational tapes aimed at managing anger and reducing stress, seem to fail miserably for the belligerent bar owner Jacques (Brian Cox), in Dagur Kari’s parable The Good Heart.

Jacques smokes like a chimney, drinks like a fish, and swears like a sailor.  He has a loyal clientele at his dive of a bar and welcomes no walk-ins.  He consumes too much Chinese food and his only friend is his dog, did I mention he has a bad heart?

After a mild heart attack, Jacques ends up in the hospital, sharing a room with homeless, suicidal Lucas (Paul Dano).

Sensitive Lucas is full of heart, kind to everyone, and manages to win over Jacques as a friend.  Jacques decides to  mentor Lucas in the fine art of bartending, and he also tries to toughen him up, since Lucas welcomes in all types of strays off the street – namely April, an attractive young female.

All hell breaks loose when April attaches herself to Lucas and refuses to leave, upsetting the all-male camaraderie in the bar.

Lucas tolerates Jacques’ shameful behavior and angry outbursts, he even nurses him through a heart transplant.  As Lucas’ unrequited heart becomes bitter, Jacques finally begins to see the light.

Kari’s film is unexpectedly inspiring and downright funny in a dark sort of way.  The drab environment and harsh lighting (sometimes dreary) works effectively.  Cox and Dano make a brilliant pair and The Good Heart is a buddy film in the truest sense.  Warning – there is one brutal scene that pops out of nowhere, that might not be for the faint of heart.

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