Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Film Review: SIMPLE MEN (1992, Hal Hartley)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert John Burke (Robocop in ROBOCOP 3, DUST DEVIL, COP LAND), Bill Sage (AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE INSIDER), Elina Löwensohn (NADJA , SCHINDLER'S LIST, BASQUIAT), Karen Sillas (TRUST, FLIRT), John MacKay (TRUST, REGARDING HENRY) , Martin Donovan (TRUST, WEEDS, THE OPPOSITE OF SEX), Damian Young (AMATEUR, IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA).
Tag-line: "There's no such thing as adventure and romance, only trouble and desire. "
Best one-liner: "Not only is she pretty, but she's got a nice personality, and she's the mother of God."

"All money is dirty money, Mom, now will you shut up and take it before I dont wanna give it to you anymore?" SIMPLE MEN is one of those perfectly realized Hal Hartley films where aesthetic detail (compare the bold reds and deep blues here with the pastel purples and baby blues of TRUST), stilted comedy, and Long Island profundity are exquisitely blended in one crisp, cool, indie package. Tough guy Robert John Burke and horn-rimmed Bill Sage play brothers in search of their (possibly) anarchist father.

Along for the ride are waifish underground legend Elina Löwensohn:

a scraggly, brutish, ballcap-wearin Martin Donovan:

Donovan freaks out.

and the reassuringly salt-of-the-earth Karen Sillas.

Its your typical on the lam crime flick, except the hero's preferred mode of transportation is a beat-up Chevy Corsica, it's of vast importance how far $15 can get you, the 'nemesis' lawman is paralyzed by ruminations on the nature of love,

and the most action involves a fracas between nun and a cop. But this isn't the manufactured quirk with which 2010 audiences are all too familiar- this is art that (to paraphrase TRUST) is dangerously sincere and sincerely dangerous. It's simple men living in the shadow of a mysterious, venerated father. Hartley calls it a world of 'trouble and desire,' a quote he culls from Fritz Lang's 1922 DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER. When we finally meet said anarchistic papa (John MacKay) he appears grizzled and wild-eyed, like Rudolph Klein-Rogge (who played Mabuse in the original film).

The anarchist shortstop.


Mabuse.

So how does the filmmaker come to grips with the artistic influences of their heroes (who sometimes seem like absent, worshipped parents)? How do you escape the hold of Lang, Godard, Ozu, et al.? Maybe you can take those flickering-shadow progenitors and simply mold them into your own likeness (deadpan, heartfelt, Long Island sincerity)- and Hal does: the most memorable scene mirrors the famous Anna Karina groove-session from BAND OF OUTSIDERS (now restaged with Hartleyian stiffness, Sonic Youth, and entirely different stakes).



Five stars.

-Sean Gill

3 comments:

J.D. said...

Love this film and your post makes me want to pull the DVD out and watch it tonight! I also developed a cinematic crush on Karen Sillas based on this film but I kinda lost track of her after this film. I suppose I should look up her filmography on the IMDB.

This is my fave Hartley film and one where all of his thematic preoccupations and idiosyncratic style dovetail rather nicely. Plus, he's got a killer cast here, as you mentioned.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, I've really been on a Hartley kick. I saw most of them in college in a Hartley/Almodovar/Trier course, and liked them, but, interestingly enough, most of the other students HATED them, reacting quite negatively and nearly violently. Revisiting them years later, I find myself connecting to the work on an even more profound level. I wonder if the other students would react differently now having actually 'lived' life outside of an ivory tower? (Though I'm sure many have indeed found a way to remain within the tower's confines.)

Anonymous said...

This is my favourite movie ever. I'd go so far as to call it the most perfect film.