10 December 2001 | Eric-1226
Hard to like it, hard NOT to like it...
Yes, for me anyway, this movie was truly hard to like. That's because, being from Seattle, I found it at times painful to watch such a story (set in my beautiful native city that I love so much) that so uncompromisingly focuses on a decidedly meaner and uglier side of life (no, you'll see no mention of Bill Gates, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstroms, or Starbucks coffee in this movie!). But eventually (after several viewings) I concluded that the postcard settings of the movie only help add to the symbolic texture of the story: beautiful, picturesque cities don't necessarily beautiful lives make.
Stated plainly, this is a powerful drama that tells a powerful story: Jack (Jeff Bridges), just released from prison, ends up in Seattle, where he must fight like hell to find work and keep his own life straight and together (he is, afterall, being monitored by a parole officer)... and by the way, he also has an adolescent son (nicely portrayed by Edward Furlong) who shows up to live with him - a son who is desperately in need of parental guidance, caretaking, and some semblance of a positive role model for a father. Complications ensue, as they say... The story is told with genuinely fine, heartfelt acting from all involved.
Maybe it's just that it was filmed in my native city, or maybe it's just that it stands on its own merits, I don't know, but I found this movie to be pretty powerful stuff: it really got to me! This is easily one of the best dramas I've seen in a long time (another drama that I recently saw and was greatly moved by was "Vampire's Kiss" with Nicolas Cage). The ending of American Heart seems perhaps a little contrived, almost as if it came straight out of some Greek tragedy. And yet somehow I appreciate the fact that the ending is decidedly *not* a happy, "Hollywood" one, instead it seems so fitting and appropriate a denouement of all that has just transpired in the film. Watch the movie, I don't think you'll disagree.
I know I risk being thought a nitpicker by even mentioning this, but, being from Seattle I couldn't help but notice that there seem to be some things in the movie that aren't quite "correct", at least from an actual Seattle setting... well, okay, let's just say they embellished the story with a few "surreal" elements: the gang of brightly costumed street kids seems a bit contrived, as does the bar scene where Jack puts the make on the taxicab lady (these seem more Hollywood than Seattle. Also, kids don't hang out in the streets here all that much. It rains too damned much!). And I noticed here and there that they take some "indecent liberties" with facts of Seattle geography. An example: in one scene, Jack is seen leaving his apartment in the Queen Anne Hill area (northwest of downtown Seattle) and hopping on a bicycle, and then, after what appears to be just minutes later, is shown casually hanging out on a wharf with a fantastic, east-looking view of the skyline of Seattle. Really, to achieve such a vantage point, he would had to have pedaled his bike to somewhere out in Eliot Bay, or perhaps over to Duwamish Head (a considerable distance away)... again, either geographically impossible, given the layout of the Seattle harbor, or chronologically impossible, given the time limitations of the filmed sequence.
There are other little areas in the film where Seattle gets "bent and stretched". I won't list them, instead (as a fun little exercise in sleuthing) urge all of you who are from Seattle, or who have spent some time here, to watch this movie and really look at things carefully and ask yourself "is that real, or is that the magic of film editing?" Again, this is only just for fun, I don't at all mean to be nitpicking the movie, because the story itself is far more important than the actual setting. And as the previous commenter noted, the basic story could happen anywhere... which, in itself, is part of the powerful statement of the movie.