Before we start may I request that you all start playing Metallica’s Master Of Puppets to listen to whilst reading this review. It’s what I am listening to as I write this and after you watch this film you will be to. Hesher, in both film and character, is about unrestrained expression and living in the now. It also has a fair bit of classic Metallica on it’s soundtrack and has made me feel like listening to them for the first time in at least a year. Hesher has that effect. The film will remind you of what it means to not give a left nut about what people think and just get on with doing what you feel. Also it is one of the most “Indie” Indie movies ever made. More on that later. For now hit the link to read my review…
Hesher tells the story of TJ (Devin Brochu), a young teen who’s mother has recently died and is struggling to cope with the grief. He has a strong attachment to the car his mother died in front of him in and it’s a symbol of his inability to let go which plays a key part in his characters development. His father (Rainn Wilson) is failing to provide the support he needs as he too is steeped in his grief and is relying on a bottle of pills to get through each day. They both live with TJ’s Grandmother (Piper Laurie) who herself is struggling to get by being on the verge of senility. The family only converse, albeit quietly, over breakfast and so any connections that need to be made are not. One day TJ meets Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who promptly decides to move into the family’s garage bringing with him a certain level of chaos that the family would rather not be dealing with right now, but they will, and it may actually help.
Hesher represents chaos and disorder in it’s purist form. His arrival is accompanied by a high pitched whistle and a short two not blast of Metallica for the early part of the film, very much as like that sensation you get when you’ve become aware that something bad is about to happen. His appearances early on a like a punch to the gut for the films proceedings. Throughout the film you’re never entirely sure what Hesher’s intentions may be. He’s a character that defies reason early on, but only because we’re used to having a film’s antagonist acting a certain way. When I say antagonist I don’t mean that he is “the bad guy” in the traditional sense. As the film goes on we begin to see that he is developing as a person without losing anything that makes him Hesher. One thing the film successfully avoids is the usual sorts of sentimentalism you’d expect, and when it does start to risk going there it promptly avoids it or puts a spin on what you’d expect. One scene at the films end being a prime example. Hesher is a hard to read character at times, you will occasionally expect him to act one way and when he doesn’t the film is all the stronger for it. If Hesher came to TJ’s rescue when he was being bullied at school it would have weakened the chaotic nature of his character.
Whilst the film does avoid sentimentalism it does tread a thin line when it comes to the Indie movie side of it’s story. There’s a lot of moments and characters that you’ll recognise from other Indie films some of which aren’t far removed from scenes in other films that JGL, and random A-lister of the film, Natalie Portman have been in. Devin Brochu gives a very capable performance as the films lead but he is very prone to that hangdog expression you see in every Indie film about depression. Also Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. Natalie Portman’s character, Nicole, can feel quite out of place. Almost as if she is there because the film needed a lady… sorry girl. Although more likely because she produced the film. She plays a cashier at a local store and comes into TJ’s life almost as instantly as Hesher himself. In her case though she is there to provide the sort of protection TJ might feel he could do with. Naturally TJ gets a bit of a crush on her. Obviously he doesn’t know that Portman likes ballet dancers.
The film maintains a very slow, measured pace throughout it’s 146 minute runtime and whilst it sounds like a film that’s full of depressing people being depressing just the very presence of Hesher quashed any chances of that being the case. He provides tension, conflict and a fair amount of humour as the film moves along. Occasionally he’ll hit with some knowledge in a very unique way. What he says may be crass and almost nihilistic but it always hits home. There’s no risk of one of his stories coming across as mushy when it involves an orgy with 4 girls in the back of his van. A story he tells to Nicole about 4 minutes after meeting her. First impressions mean shit to Hesher.
This is a film that is very much worth a viewing. It may be slow at times and full of elements you’ve come to expect from Indie films but it’s central characters keep you hooked. Hesher himself is an instant anti-hero and it’s helped by just how strong a performance JGL gives us. There’s not a person on the cast that phones in their performance and first time director Spencer Susser shows a skill in shooting and timing that many directors lack in their earlier works. He’s managed to make a film that does everything a good film should do, that being to entertain, to be surprising, to be engaging, to be memorable and deliver a message. Also, it has good Metallica on the soundtrack which is sorely lacking from the world today.