The Delicate Art of the Rifle
1996, NR, 100 min. Directed by D.w. Harper. Starring David Grant, Stephen Grant, Joy Gewalt, John Kessel, Will Shuford.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., March 22, 1996
Following its inclusion in the SXSW Film Festival, The Delicate Art of the Rifle has been held over for a world theatrical premiere at the Dobie Theatre. /// The Delicate Art of the Rifle is a strange movie. Yes, it also has moments of great humor, drama, and pathos, but more than anything else, this movie is just plain weird. This is not to say that the film isn't good because, with the exception of some annoying structural problems, the movie is quite good; it's just that some may find its eccentric mixture of silly comedy, violent tragedy, and gleeful surrealism inaccessible. The Delicate Art of the Rifle is the debut feature of the Cambrai Liberation Collective, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based film production company whose members include director D.W. Harper, producer T. Todd Flinchum, designer Alicia Kratzer, and writer-actor Stephen Grant. Driven by a rambling, stream-of-consciousness narration from its introverted protagonist, Stephen Grant's screenplay finds a geeky college student's dull day-to-day routine of working backstage in the campus theatre thrown into chaotic turmoil when one of his best friends, who is named, ironically enough, “Walt Whitman,” decides to continue his spiritual ancestor's legacy of fine marksmanship (the history of which, by the way, he hopes to chronicle in a proposed book entitled The Delicate Art of the Rifle) by camping out on the top of a tall building and randomly picking off strangers, in a darkly comic recreation of the horrifying real-life 1966 shooting spree that took place right here in Austin, Texas. While budgetary constraints occasionally blunt the effectiveness of the action, and the script may be a little too leisurely paced and anecdotal for its own good, there's no denying that this movie is a true original. The visuals here have a distinctly playful sense of the absurd unlike any film in recent memory, with moments like the uproarious Hamlet fashion show or the gloriously oddball, strangely poetic climactic appearance by a cupcake-bearing astronaut being especially memorable. The overall freshness of the piece is further enhanced by the unpolished, but wholly appropriate and engaging performances of the cast, not to mention the innovative sound design, which, at its best, is reminiscent of Alan Splet's early work with David Lynch. Although we're never quite sure of whether or not The Delicate Art of the Rifle is being weird simply for the sake of being weird, one thing is clear: Harper's film is unlike anything you've seen before, and if that alone isn't enough reason to check it out, rest assured that the movie does have more to offer its audience than just its infectiously bizarre world view, even if at first it seems to be the picture's most striking quality.