Picks and Pans Review: American Heart

updated 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/24/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jeff Bridges, Edward Furlong

Forget about the dream house and the fancy cars and sending the kids to Harvard. For Bridges, an ex-con trying to go straight, the American Dream simply means staying out of jail. This bleak but affecting movie shows how much heart it can take just to keep from slipping off the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Bridges, as sharp as ever, plays a small-time thief newly paroled and working in Seattle as a window washer. He shares a cramped room in a residential hotel with his 14-year-old son (Furlong). After years of separation, he's trying hard to be a good father but hardly knows how. He dutifully tells the kid to go to school. "What school?" asks the son, new to town. "I dunno," Bridges replies. "Find one."

American Heart scores by getting exactly right the nuances of its characters and their lives. Watch how Bridges meticulously dampens the crease on his one pair of pants before storing them under his mattress at night—or how a group of children sneak into a peep show where one knocks on the glass and yells "Hi, Mom" as his mother wearily gyrates in her G-string.

First-time feature director Martin Bell and associate producer Mary Ellen Mark previously captured Seattle's mean streets in 1985's Streetwise, their-powerful documentary about runaway teenagers. This new movie hurts just as good. (R)

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