It's hard to imagine what the good intentions were behind The Good Heart. There must have been some. This hybrid little oddity plays out as a stylized parable from an intensely personal viewpoint, that of Paris-born, Denmark-educated Icelandic filmmaker Dagur Kari. Shot in (American) English with an international cast, the film is set in an unidentified modern city and populated by characters who are metaphorical archetypes rather than recognizable humans.
They have no past or future; they exist in the moment in a simplistic story that's more fable than drama. At its center is Jacques (Brian Cox), the crotchety, foul-mouthed owner of a seedy neighborhood bar. Unburdened by spouse, children, or friends, he's devoted to his few eccentric patrons, in his way, yet hasn't a good word to say to anybody on any occasion. At the local hospital, where he periodically turns up because of his bum ticker, even the nurses wish he would drop dead. During one of his hospital stays, he meets Lucas (Paul Dano), a young homeless man who lives in a cardboard box down by the docks. Jacques takes in sweet-tempered Lucas and teaches him to run the bar, so the regulars he refers to as "morons" will continue to have a refuge after Jacques himself is gone. From here, the story might have gone in several interesting directions. Instead, Kari introduces a female with a French accent (Isild Le Besco), literally, out of the blue. As cardboard as Lucas' box, her sole
purpose is to disrupt Jacques' relationship with Lucas and the all-male sanctity of the bar. For something this determinedly artificial to qualify as parable, it would have to come to a larger point, but nothing that happens in Kari's controlled little Petri-dish of a story has any resonance or application in the larger world. The hardworking Cox's misanthropic irascibility is funny for awhile, then tiresome, and Dano can't do much with his passive, one-note character. Kari's attempt at an ironic plot twist is telegraphed halfway through the movie, if not sooner. And a brief image of animal cruelty with no bearing on the plot and dubious metaphorical intent leaves a sour taste the rest of the movie never redeems. (R) 95 minutes. (★)—L J Watch film trailer