The Yellow Handkerchief
Directed by Udayan Prasad. Starring William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne. (2010, PG-13, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 2, 2010
Despite its shared title with a Jack London story, The Yellow Handkerchief is based on a New York Post story by the legendary newsman Pete Hamill. Titled “Going Home,” it recounts the true story of an ex-con on a long bus ride back home to Florida. Just 800 words long, the piece is plainspoken, efficient, and remarkably effective – very nearly the inverse of this feature-length adaptation. Hurt plays Brett Hanson, a taciturn oil worker coming off of a six-year sentence at a Louisiana penitentiary. He hitches a ride out of town with a twitchy, overenthusiastic young man named Gordy (Redmayne); riding shotgun is 15-year-old Martine (Twilight’s Stewart), a pretty girl with seriously volumized hair and a habit of making bad decisions. They are all strangers to one another, but they coalesce into a kind of ad-hoc family over the course of their days-long southbound trip to the Gulf (filmed on location, to good effect). The actors – including Bello as Brett’s mouthy, coast-weathered wife, seen in flashback – do sensitive, never dull work, but Prasad either underdirects or willfully misdirects the younger actors. In this kind of small-scale relationship drama, the tiniest gesture counts, and a wrong inflection can send the audience scrambling in the opposite direction of what was intended. Stewart’s Martine – who comes on as too jailbaity in the early scenes – is a character entirely defined by the men around her, while Redmayne’s Gordy is so muzzily presented, I thought he was mentally challenged for the first half of the film (the actor’s lift of Leonardo DiCaprio’s distinctive nose swipe from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape should have been excised by an editor with a keener eye). That feeling of inattention dogs the film, which is rendered even clunkier by the script’s “Let me tell you a story”-like incorporation of flashback. Still, when The Yellow Handkerchief finally hooks into the meat of Hamill’s source story, the narrative tension puts enough wind in the film’s sails to arrive at its corny but sentimentally satisfying conclusion.