Joseph Gordon-Levitt is enjoyable to watch in Hesher, but he’s also terrible—a display case of phony actor’s tricks. As the title character, a self-centered anarchic bonehead who embodies and ultimately channels the suppressed rage of a tormented family, Gordon-Levitt is roughly equal parts Boudu, High Plains Drifter, Tyler Durden, Fred Durst, and maybe even the bank-robbing surfer Patrick Swayze played in Point Break, and all that baggage clearly brings out the actor’s stilted self-consciousness. Tatted up and sporting a surprisingly flattering mane of jet-black hair, Gordon-Levitt adopts a loud elephant lumber to signal the character’s intentionally intrusive contempt, holds his silverware in that awkward full-handed fashion that most outgrow by their sixth year, and utters virtually every line of dialogue in a guttural growl. He tries real hard, but you don’t buy a minute of it. Hesher’s a badass in quotation marks.
Admittedly, Hesher, who we first see squatting in a house that’s mid-construction, is initially threatening. We don’t expect this sort of piece of work in your average quiet and quirky indie dramedy, but the film quickly neuters him with its dedication to life-affirming formula, and so Gordon-Levitt’s gimmicks stick out all the more. Hesher, the anarchist who blows up a bully’s car and tosses beer cans over old lady’s caskets, is really just a cuddle bug that’s here to rub salve on a family’s recently acquired scars. The film flirts with a messiness it can’t help but tidy up.
Yet, one actor manages to transcend this movie. As the aging woman who finds herself looking after her son (Rainn Wilson) and grandson (Devon Brochu) following the death of their respective wife and mother, Piper Laurie brings a restrained matter-of-fact sadness that instantly recalls the faces of any number of family elders we seemingly can’t help but let down. Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, and Wilson are talented people pulling routine strings, while Laurie appears to be mining an authentic reservoir of pain. She occasionally manages to turn Hesher into the ambiguous rebel-yell it aspires to be.
Good transfer, and not overly pristine, as Hesher is supposed to be grainy and washed out. This sort of visual scheme can sometimes compromise important details such as the faces of the actors, but the details here—the tattoos, the low-income houses—are distinct and precise without compromising the effect of the defiantly hand-made, lo-fi attitude that's meant to pervade. And the darker colors, particularly the browns, are appropriately hazy and more than adequately balanced with the intentional glare of the whites. The sound mix, especially for such a little seen film, is terrific. The voices are well dubbed (I couldn't detect any mismatches) while the 5.1 surround allows you to replicate Hesher's propensity for ear-splitting metal.
The extras in this case are entirely pointless. The deleted scenes are boring even for aficionados of deleted scenes (assuming they exist), as they are basically little snips here and there from moments that made it into the actual movie. The outtakes are longer and a little more intimate than usual, but they're still, let's face it, clips of actors laughing after blowing a take. The making-of featurette is the traditional thinly disguised talking-heads advertisement for the movie, while the "Hesher Sketch Gallery" will only be of interest to anyone who wants to copy the titular character's tattoos. The teaser channel feature is a blink-and-miss-it collection of the programs Hesher watches throughout the film, while the admittedly bizarre "Air Traffic" assembles presumably all the takes blown by overheard airplanes into a brief montage. Hesher, which would appear to be a passion project, is sorely missing a filmmaker commentary.
The great transfer should please fans of this well-meaning, mixed-up movie. But the extras suck.