The Austin Chronicle

Simple Men

Directed by Hal Hartley. Starring Robert Burke, William Sage, Karen Sillas, Elina Lowensohn, Martin Donovan, March Chandler Bailey.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Feb. 5, 1993

Hal Hartley's films are unmistakable: they beat with an irregular rhythm, speak in affected dialogues, brush against the suburban surreal. An up-and-coming auteur, Hartley first made waves with The Unbelievable Truth in 1990 and garnered serious critical attention with Trust a year later. Simple Men is his most “serious” -- if that's the right word for it -- film to date, yet another contemplation of the human comedy on Long Island. Hartley's screenplay follows the search of two brothers -- one a solemn and bookish college student, the other a jaded and brokenhearted white-collar criminal -- for their father, a famous baseball player turned political radical who went underground after allegedly bombing the Pentagon in 1969. Their journey is anything but picaresque; as one of the brothers observes, “There's no such thing as adventure or love, only trouble and desire.” Although Hartley's films invite strained comparisons to David Lynch's work, this is no Twin Peaks. His ear for wordplay is faux Mamet; his gift for situations is Pinteresque. Although not as wryly funny as his other movies, Simple Men has its simple pleasures: a bossy nun sneaking a cigarette, a gas station attendant performing an electric guitar solo of “Greensleeves,” a drunken dissertation on Madonna and sexual exploitation. Even more so, the way he uses a personality quirk or an off-handed remark -- for example, a character's alleged inability to lie -- to give his story emotional resonance is wonderfully inventive. Like other Hartley films, Simple Men is good, but it's not great. When he breaks through with the great one, rest assured it will be the next big thing.

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