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I first heard about this movie when it was filming in Seattle, my home. Being a fan of Jeff Bridges, I had to see it when it was released. I now own it on video, and it is one of my favorites.
The Seattle locations are used well, but the basic story could happen anywhere. Ex-con Bridges tries to build a life for himself and his estranged son after his release from prison. There are subplots dealing with a pen-pal romance and Jack's ex-partner, but the focus is on the father-son relationship. What makes the film fascinating is the texture and depth of Bridges' performance. Jack is not too smart, a drunk, and flat broke. He is thrown into a harsh, uncompromising world at the very bottom rung, and somehow must find a way to survive AND stay straight. As he gradually takes responsibility for his son, Nick, he regains his self-esteem and humanity. Bridges shows us all this with humor, honesty, and zero sentimentality. He never shies away from exposing Jack's flaws, but also imbues him with a raw sort of nobility. Flashback sequences drawing a parallel between young Jack and Nick add a layer of poignancy.
There is level of verisimilitude and frankness in "American Heart" that contemporary, mainstream American movies rarely exhibit. In form it greatly resembles Dustin Hoffman's remarkable "Straight Time", but this film is about relationships, not crime. If all you want from a movie is escapism, stay away. Those who like to wander near the Edge will be rewarded.
"you keep me straight, I'll keep you straight"
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