The Good Heart

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Posted April 29, 2010 in Film

Two men meet in a hospital and they couldn’t be more different. Paul Dano is a sweet homeless suicide and Brian Cox is a racist, sexist firebrand whose nurses grumble, “Why don’t you just die?” But Cox is looking for an heir to take over his bar, The House of Oysters, and thrusts himself upon Dano to teach him such tricks of the trade as “Be familiar, not friendly” and “A bar cannot exceed 13 people—think Jesus and the apostles.” The bar itself is spotted with an eclectic mix of men who could be cast as the drunk in half-a-dozen different movies: among them, there’s the old coot, the well-suited hot shot, the silent mystery. Icelandic writer-director Dagur Kári (who made the very fine Noi the Albino) sets this in the states, but it plays like an alternate reality, a hangover toast to an old New York with original wood paneling, cassette tapes and indoor smoking. Cox owns this world—he’s both despot and king. But Dano can’t make an impression in his own story. With his moony Russian face, he was made to play zealots and dictators. But he gravitates to meek sad sacks, and he’s suffocatingly hesitant. Here, he’s almost channeling Edward Scissorhands, but without the spark and menace. When a striking foreign stewardess (Isild Le Besco) stumbles into the bar against Cox’s No Women Allowed policy, she latches on to Dano like a fungus. I think we’re meant to think she’s drawn to his tender nature, but we’re so irritated by him that she feels like a desperate gold-digger. We’re waiting for Kári to take this fable about manhood and respect to some dark places, but for all of Cox’s bigoted rants, it’s just a bunch of bluster. 

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