American Heart

Institute History

  • 1993 Sundance Film Festival


Martin Bell, who makes his feature-film debut with American Heart, proved himself one of cinema’s keenest observers of relationships formed in adversity with his provocative Academy Awed-nominated documentary, Streetwise. American Heart returns to the subject of the homeless and dispossessed. It is an explosive and heartbreaking story that simultaneously points out the desperation of failure and affirms the triumphant power of love.

In one of the most chilling performances of his career, Jeff Bridges play Jack Keely. Released from prison on a work-furlough program, Jack is reunited with his fourteen-year-old son Nick (Edward Furlong). Jack wants nothing to do with Nick, even though deep down there is nothing he needs more than to spend time with his son. Empowered by the innocent omniscience of youth, Nick is confident that his father must love him, and manages to stick out Jack’s initial explosiveness. Finally he convinces his father to let him stay. More often negligent and abusive than loving, Jack struggles with parenting. Nick, who has basically grown up on his own, is a bright kid more interested in learning from the streets than from his father or school. Jack’s financial and emotional inadequacies, combined with Nick’s discovery that his father’s great dream of moving to Alaska does not include him, eventually drives the boy into the streets, where he joins rank of the lost and neglected.

Bell’s deft handling of Jack and Nick as they move through and beyond the crisis and search for strength in themselves and each other reveals his most sensitive and powerful abilities as a director. He is able to provoke outstanding performances from his actors, which illustrate the pain and alienation and the profundity of human frailty. In a strong supporting role, Lucinda Jenney is Charlotte, Jack’s girlfriend and prison pen pal. Charlotte tries to give Jack the strength to stand up to the desolation of life and beat it down. We desperately wish Jack could listen, but the hard knocks of a life with nothing can sometimes be too much for anyone to endure.

U.S. Premiere

Friday, January 22 7:00 pm
Egyptian Theatre

Saturday, January 23 9:30 am
Prospector Square Theatre

Sunday, January 24 8:00 pm
Sundance Screening Room


— Catherine Schulman

Screening Details

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