Sundance: Hesher Review

Directed by: Spencer Susser
Written by: Spencer Susser and David Michôd (screenplay), Brian Charles Frank (story)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, Piper Laurie, John Carroll Lynch, Devin Brochu


Joseph Gordon-Levitt is everywhere at this year’s festival. Not only is he starring in two films in the line-up, but he is hanging out at one of the venues promoting his project HitRECord and talking to anyone who goes in.

Hesher is the first of his films to be shown and sees him playing the title role. The story centers around a young boy, TJ, whose mother was recently killed in a car accident, which has turned his family upside down. His father (played excellently by Rainn Wilson) is heavily medicated, spending the majority of his time asleep on the sofa while they stay with his elderly grandmother.

The film opens with TJ cycling manically to follow the car his mother was killed in as it’s being towed away. He ends up losing the tow truck and then being chased by the school bully, leading him to dart down an alley and cycle over a hole, which flings him into the dirt. Out of frustration he smashes a window of the abandoned building Hesher is residing in. This alerts the police and we get our first idea of Hesher’s character as he throws a stick of dynamite out through the window to create a diversion in which to escape.

Hesher then becomes a permanent fixture in the boy’s life, showing up at various moments to terrorize him in different ways before finally moving in, uninvited, to live with this broken family.

It was obvious from the trailer and the stills that this was going to be an interesting performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it truly is but I did find the character a little one-dimensional. This isn’t necessarily too much of a problem as, although it’s a little bit of a one trick-pony type character, Levitt brings a subtlety to certain moments and I enjoyed those aspects far more than his crazier antics.


The ensemble cast is excellent with every actor giving a great performance but the only that I feel truly stands out is that of Devin Brochu who plays TJ. The 13-year-old actor holds the film together and it’s an astounding performance from someone so young.

Hesher does lack a certain amount of depth but I enjoyed that it was far more of a drama than I had expected. It is surprising that, although satisfactory, Natalie Portman’s performance is the least notable of all; she was slightly drowned in her overly quirky wardrobe that felt really unnecessary as it could’ve been a great, and far more subtle, supporting role.

The dialogue given to Hesher’s character is absolutely hilarious and so vulgar it provides necessary humour in contrast to the suffering family. The one thing that disappointed me most was the very final shot, which I won’t spoil, but the filming technique really spoiled the sentiment the film was trying to wrap up with. People expecting a really outlandishly crazy film based on the press for the film so far may be a little disappointed, but it’s still definitely worth checking out for the dialogue alone. — Charlotte

You can read more of Charlotte’s Sundance coverage over at The Documentary Blog or by following her on Twitter.

SCORE: 3 stars

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  • Paige G

    Hey Charlotte,

    I really enjoy reading your reviews. I definitely want to check this out, if not just for Jonathan GL. Have you seen him in his REC project? I want details.

    Paige x

  • Hesher has 22 credited producers! What is up with that?

  • “Hesher has 22 credited producers! What is up with that?”

    In my opiion, and I’m just going on a feeling from reading stories on the current state of Indy film, this reflects multiple trends going on in the film industry.

    First, there has been a reduction in the number of films green-lit by major studios and most of the films are “branded entertainment” – tied to book, toy, food, blah. Many of the Independent labels have closed or have been absorbed by their parent company to lower overhead. There has also been a trend of studios trying to break the starsystem and frontend salaries. Both of these trends are forcing A-list actors into the realm of independent film and taking a more active roles in seraching and developing projects for themselves or their production arms. This means every star and/or their “handlers” want something for associating themselves with the indy project. Inherently, they can’t get the pay they want so they seek “a credit”.

    Second, I read and hear everywhere that associating a “name” (any name) with a project totally changes everything about a property. You go to some of the Sundance blogs and they are littered with “we didn’t get taken seriously until so-and-so put their name behind our script”. Again, nothing comes for free. Think of every major actor, or connected person, wanting something to have their name attached to a script years before principal photography. This also plays in to the distribution deals a lot of filmmakers make before the film is even shot – the attached names change that dynamic as most distributors will not even talk to you without one.

    Third, we live in a world where mere association with projects is more important them real contribution. With so many film people having fewer and fewer opportunities to actually work on films continuously (first point), or paid their real rate, they are going to fight to keep building their resume enabling them to stay in the game so-to-speak for when they get a chance at a major part of a bigger budgeted film.

  • Hesher Official

    There is an official trailer being released soon and the film itself is scheduled to come out in May. Check out our Facebook at