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Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // September 13, 2011
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 4, 2011 | E-mail the Author
So, the first time we actually meet Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a middle schooler or whatever had just chucked a rock through the window of the skeleton of a house where
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he's been squatting. He storms out -- no shirt, Master of Puppets scraggly hair, and a tattoo of a big-ass middle finger on his back -- and drags the little fucker inside. A security guard drives up before Hesher can slice off the kid's nose, so the dude throws a bomb at the rent-a-cop and tears off in his van. Those first few scenes with Hesher...? I mean, pretty much everything he says or does is punctuated by chugging '80s metal guitars. Sometimes he seems like some kind of fucked-up guardian angel -- I mean, the kind of angel who'd scrawl "suck my cock" on a bully's car and then stick T.J. (Devin Brochu) with the marker -- and other times he shrugs "fuck it" and lets that little kid get a urinal cake smeared all over his face or whatever.

Hesher is pretty much one of those indie movie manic-pixie-dream-girl types -- some finger-wagglingly crazy outsider whose job it is to inject some life into all those dull, complacent squares -- only this M.P.D.G. has a cock, is rocking a gigantic tattoo of a dude blowing his brains out, and...uh, likes to burn things. Since that middle schooler's temper tantrum got Hesher the boot from the last place he was staying, 'sonly fair that he have a place to crash with T.J. and his family. Hesher doesn't ask or anything...he kinda just does it. The kid's kind-hearted grandma (Piper Laurie) is A-OK with it. T.J.'s dad (Rainn Wilson) hardly even notices, still reeling from the loss of his wife and would really just as soon doze off on Gam-Gam's recliner all day watching Family Feud. So, yeah, if Hesher is supposed to be some kind of thrash-metal Mary Poppins, the dude's got his work cut out for him. As luck would have it, I guess, T.J. has a fallback guardian angel: Nicole (Natalie Portman), a frumpy cashier at some no-name grocery store who can't even cover her rent on what she makes. Basically, everyone's depressed and miserable from word one, the movie makes damn sure they get even more depressed and miserable from there, and Hesher gets to teach 'em all hypervulgar lessons about what it means to be alive and stuff.

For the first...I don't know, twenty minutes of Hesher, I had that wide-eyed I-can't-believe-something-this-fucking-awesome exists look plastered all over my face. It's a gloomy, depressing movie, and Hesher just plows through it all like some kind of heavily tattooed battering ram. Everything about him -- the cacklingly ridiculous tattoos, the way he'll strut around a houseful of strangers in nothing but a
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crusty pair of Hanes, unscrambling porn at Granny's house, and the completely fucked-up things he says -- straight-up kills. For a while there, Hesher is such a supernatural presence that I wasn't sure if the guy even existed. He's impossible to pin down, and it feels like there's never really any telling what kind of mayhem he's gonna unleash next.

One of the missteps the movie makes, though, is that the more screentime that's thrown at Hesher, the more routine all of those scenes start to feel. By the time he's at a funeral with a tallboy of PBR, rambling about blowing up an engine, losing one of his testicles in the explosion, then going back to look for it, it's, like...yeah. I get it. Indie as fuck. Not funny or shocking anymore. Just starts to feel really repetitive and indie-comedy-drama-trope-y. Joseph Gordon-Levitt acts the hell out of the part, as if you'd expect anything less, but there's only so much he can do with the material when Hesher slumps into the gloomy, darkly comedic indie-quirk formula. Hesher tries to milk laughs from the deliriously vulgar dialogue and how uncomfortable it is when the dude careens clear over the top -- when his destructive shenangians stop being charmingly quirky and start getting deranged -- but the movie gets worse and worse at that as it goes along. The screenplay also seems to mistake unrelenting fucking misery for characterization. No one in this movie, except maybe Hesher, needs more than four or five words to completely sum up everything we know about 'em as characters. Hesher is so hellbent on stripping away every glimmer of happiness or joy out of their lives -- I mean, I think only Winter's Bone had more grief, degradation, beatings, and self-destructive tendencies than this -- that it really starts to get overwhelming, even though the movie's telegraphed a lot of those beats in the plot well in advance.

I feel kind of badly trashing Hesher because the acting is pretty incredible straight across the board, the cast does their damndest to sell all the heavy emotions, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is...well, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and compliments don't get much higher than that. It's just that Hesher would've been a phenomenal short, and the more it settles into becoming a movie, the more routine and clumsily heavy-handed the whole thing starts to get. Ugh. I really wanted to like this one too. Rent It.

Hesher kinda looks aggressively mediocre in high-def. Contrast is consistently flat and lifeless throughout, dragged down by milky grays passing themselves off as black levels and nothing even a little bit resembling shadow detail. There's just enough clarity and fine detail for me to get that I'm watching a movie on Blu-ray and all, but the photography overall is unusually soft. The desaturated palette is pretty much what you'd expect for a film this gloomy and dour, but it's still kind of like looking at the wood paneling on a '70s station wagon on an overcast November day. Better than DVD for sure but not exactly what I'd expect for a movie -- even a low-budget indie like this -- just now storming out of theaters. If you want a case in point...?

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Hesher's AVC encode spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The movie's presented at the kind of oddball aspect ratio of 2.45:1, a little wider than most of the scope flicks on Blu-ray.

Can't say I'm all that impressed with the way Hesher looks on Blu-ray, but as far as how it sounds...? Whole other deal. Hesher is rocking a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Every element in the mix is startlingly clean, clear, and distinct. The sound design is atmospheric and subtly enveloping, and I can only imagine that'd be heightened even greater if I had those extra couple of surround channels rather than my plain-jane 5.1 setup. The low-end also packs a wallop, from the chugging guitars to Hesher's bassy stomps to a, um, exploding convertible. Way the hell above average.

No dubs this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish. There's also a DTS-HD Master Audio sound check feature to make sure your eight-channel surround sound setup is up to snuff.

  • Behind the Scenes (7 min.; HD): Hesher's making-of feaurette is a pretty routine promotional piece, recapping
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    the plot, chatting about the cast, running through the're not gonna get much out of this if you've already sat down and watched the movie.

  • Deleted Scenes (7 min.; HD): There are five (well, more like four and a half) deleted and extended scenes in this reel, including T.J. taking a jab at his father for not going back to work yet, an earlier stab by Hesher at finding a vacant house to trash, T.J. chatting with his pop on the way out the door to give Nicole an awfully lavish present, and more with T.J. and, uh, his grandma, kind of. There's nothing really essential in here, although I guess that's a good thing 'cause you want all the best stuff to be in the movie. I'm on record as being a fan of the way these deleted scenes are served up, bookended by footage from the final cut in gray to give you some context about where these would've fit in.

  • Outtakes (28 min.; HD): Clocking in just shy of a half hour, I've gotta wonder if Hesher holds some kind of record for Longest Blooper Reel Ever. A few of the highlights...? Joseph Gordon-Levitt cracking up about how gross the family dinner he's supposed to be eating is, a bunch of extras dozing off during a grief counseling sequence, Rainn Wilson doing an extended Rush Limbaugh impression, and an ill-fated family trying to speak in Spanish about how el nuevo microwave es muy mejor than the viejo microwave.

  • Air Traffic (2 min.; HD): Outtake Reel Numero Two-oh plows through literally dozens of takes being ruined by airplanes soaring overhead.

  • Hesher Sketch Gallery (HD): You're lookin' at thirtysomething super-rough pieces of line art of Hesher's tattoos and end credit stuff.

  • More Promotional Stuff (2 min.; HD): Last up are a theatrical trailer and a 24 second viral thing that I guess was making the rounds on YouTube.

The Final Word
I was really digging Hesher for a while there, but it settles too quickly into the "sadsack suburbanites have their gloomy lives shaken up by a quirky outsider" indie movie routine. It tries so hard to heap misery on top of misery on these characters who I really don't ever get a chance to know, and that gets really exhausting after a while. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is more than a little bit brilliant as Hesher, a hypervulgar thrash-metal avenging angel, but that initial "...the fuck?!" thunder kind of fades away when the movie keeps having him do and say the same sorts of things over and over and over and over. The more you see of Hesher, the less of an impact he winds up having, and it gets disappointingly clear just how empty and ordinary a movie this really is. If you've gotta see Hesher, my vote...? Rent It.
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