Combustible Celluloid
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With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Devin Brochu, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie
Written by: Spencer Susser, David Michôd, based on a story by Brian Charles Frank
Directed by: Spencer Susser
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent behavior, sexual content including graphic dialogue, pervasive language, and drug content - some in the presence of a child
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/22/2010

Hesher (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Master of Puppets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In his feature directorial debut, Spencer Susser establishes a deadpan, lost, grungy quality, the perfect place where a creature like Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) might have evolved. At one point, Hesher tells the story about a mouse thatis introduced into a snake's cage and survives. It's clear that this metaphor applies to Hesher himself, but he's still a mysterious, magnetic, repellent, and alluring figure, stomping around, defiant, shirtless and shoeless, long, greasy hair swaying from side to side, crude tattoos on display. It's quite an astonishing performance by Gordon-Levitt.

After the death of his mother, 13 year-old T.J. (Devin Brochu) deals with his sadness and frustration by hurling a rock through a window of a construction site. Unfortunately this disturbs a squatter inside, Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who scares away the security guard by setting off a bomb. Not long after, Hesher moves into T.J.'s home, setting up residence with his pill-popping father (Rainn Wilson), and doddering grandmother (Piper Laurie). Hesher proceeds with his old habits of listening to headbanger music, trashing things, setting things on fire, and watching porn. Meanwhile, T.J. befriends a poor, sad, waifish grocery clerk (Natalie Portman). Perhaps, hopefully, some of Hesher's influence will rub off in a good way.

In an ordinary movie, Hesher would eventually help the family through their grief and that they would help him become a better person, but this dark movie doesn't go anyplace quite that obvious or comfortable. Yet the movie does have a point. The T.J. character is so sweet and sad that he provides an emotional entrance and throughline for the viewer. The rest of the cast is likewise fine.

Co-writer David Michôd is actually the writer/director of last year's acclaimed, Oscar-nominated Animal Kingdom.

Lionsgate's good-looking Blu-Ray comes with a nice selection of bonuses, including a few deleted scenes and about a half-hour's worth of outtakes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a gallery of Hesher's sketches, and a weird little collection of clips ("Air Traffic") showing how often the crew had to wait for airplanes to fly overhead before they could resume filming. There are also trailers.

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