Wednesday, 13 July 2011

American Heart (1992)

More from The Dude Abides season at the NFT demonstrating not just Jeff Bridges’ ability to pick roles but to champion interesting projects. (He also produced the film.)

Martin Bell has only ever directed one feature work of fiction and, impressively, this is it. Inspired by his documentary Streetwise, American Heart takes a close look at those inhabiting the seamier edges of Seattle society. It's gritty and often unpleasant albeit sharply observed and dryly funny. The film is populated by street kids, pimps and prostitutes but it is a powerful father/son story that is the focus.

Jack Kelson (Bridges) has just got out of jail and wants to put the life of crime behind him. His estranged son Nick (Edward Furlong) shows up wishing to share this new start. Initially Jack resists but they get a room together in a cheap hotel and their bonds develop. He gets a job as a window washer and, unsurprisingly, the straight life proves to be tough. The ensuing fallout tests their already-fragile relationship.

Muscular and long-haired, Jeff Bridges looks and feels every bit the hard-drinking, tough guy, former thief. Edward Furlong – here just a year after Terminator 2 – proved again he had an absurd talent for such a young man. He achieves a balance of toughness and vulnerability in a very moving performance.

I’d never heard of this film, which admittedly, made it an even better watch. It’s a rare treat these days, for so many of us, to go in un-primed for a film. Even films premiering at festivals will have some kind of buzz – good or bad - surrounding them. But creeping in under the radar with little fuss this is indicative of Bridges moniker (till recent Oscar glory) as Least Appreciated Actor in Hollywood.

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