Friday 24 February 2012


A hit at Sundance in 2010, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring and Natalie Portman produced Hesher is out now on DVD.

Grieving over the recent loss of his mother, TJ (Devin Brochu), his father (Rainn Wilson) and his elderly grandmother (Piper Laurie) find their lives taking an unanticipated turn when the mysterious Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decides to move into their garage despite not knowing anyone in the family. As TJ tries to keep Hesher under control they meet Nicole (Natalie Portman), a local checkout assistant who wants to change the path her life is taking.

Released in the US in May last year, Hesher arrives on our shores direct to DVD to little or no fanfare. Apart from its status as an obscure curio, you'd have expected a bit more attention given to a film that stars the soon to be a megastar Joseph Gordon-Levitt and recent Best Actress Oscar winner, Natalie Portman. Admittedly not a film that serves a wide audience, but surely a short theatrical run could be justified?

A bit like a devil worshippers take on that episode of the Simpsons where Otto moves in and has rocking good times with Bart, if only Otto was a hard drinking fan of daytime pornography watching. Hesher is an anti-social anti-hero with few redeeming qualities apart from having a good head of hair and a collection of cartoon-y homemade tattoos. He's pretty rock and roll, or to be more exact, metal.

Part Tyler Durden without a cause, part Terminator and part Bam Margera, Hesher shows himself to be a law unto himself, uncaring as to the consequences of his actions be it jumping off a flaming diving board or threatening people with gardening shears. It falls upon TJ to try and keep Hesher under control, all the while trying to piece together the life he had before his mother's death. TJ's father is a husk of a man who accepts Hesher's presence with indifference, not seeing the dangers inherent in his son's new role model, whereas his grandmother manages to bring out the sweeter side of Hesher, the calm in the very middle of the storm.

Natalie Portman (still pretty despite her efforts to 'ugly up' for the role) has little to do in her supporting role, her real contribution to the film being her producer's credit which must have helped such a small indie get made. 2011 may have been Natalie Portman's year (her success barely needs mentioning), but this is nowhere near the best of her performances.

Co-written by Animal Kingdom's director, David Michod, Hesher comes from Blue Tongue films, the mostly Australian collective of up and coming filmmakers working in independent film. There's not many parallels to be made between this and Animal Kingdom apart from one crucial one. Just as Animal Kingdom's Pope could make a room full of people feel uncomfortable and edge just by being in it, so can the unpredictable Hesher, even if his crimes are not as brutal as Pope's.

After the initial set up the story is pretty loose, relying more on left-field tangents than actual plot. Bleak with flashes of humour, it's a great calling card for Gordon-Levitt's range, commanding our attention on screen by not even doing very much. A former child star who made his career legit with performances in Mysterious Skin and Brick, with The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon he's soon to be a very famous actor, but hopefully that won't stop him from appearing in smaller films like this.

It's his performance and that of the young Devin Brochu that impress, the unlikely bond between Hesher and TJ one that keeps the film afloat when there's little in way of story. Finished off with a heavy metal soundtrack fitting its main antagonist/protagonist, Hesher ends up being anarchic but ultimately rather sweet. An interesting but very odd debut.


Special Features: None

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