My adventure to finally see Hesher began a couple of months back. I was on vacation from the day job and was going to New York City for a baseball game and a few movies. Perfect way to kill a day, right? Well, it started off well enough with the baseball game and the crowded subway ride in to Grand Central for the movies. One of the movies on the list was Hesher. It was a movie I knew little about, aside from its eclectic cast, but I knew I very much wanted to see it. This experience did not go nearly as well as planned. As it turns out, the audio system in the theater was messed up and everyone sounded like broken Transformers.
That's right. It was unintelligible. It started with the trailers. I sat there figuring that it would clear up when the movie started, I hoped that it was just something with the trailer files (it was digital projection), but alas, it was not to b. The problem was in the sound system itself. To top it off, this was the last screening they were having. To say I was disappointed would be something of an understatement. I ended up seeing Yuen Woo Ping's True Legend instead.
Now I have a copy of the Hesher Blu-ray in my possession and I was happy that I was finally going to see this comic/drama. At this point the movie could have gone either way, good or bad, and I knew I would still be a satisfied viewer. On the other side of seeing the film, I am happy to report that while it is nowhere near a classic, this is a movie that is eminently watchable, funny, bizarre, well acted, poignant, and vulgar. In other words it is good movie that skates the realms of the familiar and the unfamiliar in a movie that is more stylized than realistic. It is a movie that requires that you get on board pretty early on, because the story would unravel if anyone were to have a logical conversation. This is not a bad thing, just an observation.
Hesher is about a family on the verge of disintegrating. You see, they were recently involved in an accident which left young TJ Forney (Devin Brochu) motherless, angry, and lost, and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson), wife-less, depressed, and near catatonic. They live with TJ's grandmother (Piper Laurie) who appears to be losing herself to Alzheimer's and age. They are the portrait of a family in a downward spiral that by all accounts is impossible to pull out of. Paul isn't working, TJ is bullied at school, and no one seems to care. It would seem that Mrs. Forney was the glue that held them all together. With her untimely demise the remainder of the family is unable to fend for itself.
Something happens that will forever change the course of the Forney family. TJ has an encounter with metalhead delinquent Hesher (Joseph Gordon Levitt). He is a rather unlikable fellow on the surface. He is vulgar, violent, a vandal, drives a beat up van, and has tattoos that include a middle finger on his back and a stick figure of a man blowing his head off on his chest. His hair is long and greasy, and he is not the kind of person you bring home to meet the family.
In some ways he is much like the shark in Jaws, a force of nature that cannot be contained, and should likely be avoided. Hesher can also be compared to the titular character of Mary Poppins or the visitor in Takashi Miike's Visitor Q. He is a character whose path crosses with those who need his influence at a critical time in their lives.
Hesher is a movie that will make you watch. You will want to see just what is going to happen next. Hesher is an unpredictable character and while the movie is not exactly his story, it is his presence that holds everything together and spurs the arcs of the Forney family. He is an unpredictable quantity, a quantity that cares about nothing and willfully destroys whatever he sees. Or does he? He may not really have a proper beginning or ending, but what is there in the middle is a sight to see.
While Hesher is the driving force, what makes the movie resonate like it does is the paths of the family. I am still at a loss as to how he does it, but the father and son are poked and prodded through their issues to a point of catharsis, thus allowing them to return to their lives and hopefully move forward rather than wallow in the tragic loss. This is not to belittle what has happened and not suggesting that they forget, rather they need to come to terms with their feelings and allow themselves to move on.
The film is director/co-writer Spencer Susser's first feature film and it is an interesting one to say the least. He is not afraid to take inspiration from the past, nor is he scared to allow the driving force of the piece by a vulgar, anti-social hooligan. It is a rather inspired choice and I look forward to see what he does next.
Audio/Video. The film is presented in a ratio of 2.4:1 and looks really good. It is certainly a low budget affair, but that doesn't stop this transfer from looking solid. There is a good level of detail and the daylight sequences (of which there are many) have nice color depth. The few night sequences get a little muddy, but still retain acceptable detail. Likewise, interiors support good detail but suffer a bit from a flat lighting style, although that is probably on purpose.
Audio is present in a DTS-HD 7.1 track. This is a fairly good track that kicks into life whenever something gets blown up, which seems to happen at regular intervals. There is plenty of dynamic range, covering quiet and nearly whispered dialogue to exploding fireballs in the night. Dialogue is always clear and there is nice, if infrequent use of surrounds in sensible locations. It doesn't hurt that Hesher is a metal fan and the soundtrack is littered with bits from bands like Metallica. Nice.
Extras. There are a few here, but a commentary would have been nice.
- Deleted Scenes. A few cut and deleted bits that are actually quite god with some nice character moments.
- Outtakes. This starts off by showing just how much Devin Brochu had to scream! Also includes a healthy dose of missteps and flubbed lines.
- Behind the Scenes. This features a discussion of what Hesher is and what the film is about wrapped around some footage from the set.
- Hesher Sketch Gallery. A collection of drawings that seem t accurately represent our central enigma.
- Trailer. The original trailer.
- Air Traffic. Clips of them dealing with planes flying overhead during the shoot.
- Teaser Channels. Funny.
Bottomline. This is a movie that is a good. Perhaps very good. Perhaps even better than I think it is right now. It features another strong performance from Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is fast becoming a favorite actor. It is a movie that flips you off as it tells you to have a heart. It is an interesting concoction to say the least.
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Hesher on Blogcritics.