“You’ve got to give credit to Hal Hartley,” begins Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter. “After breaking out onto the scene 25 years ago with The Unbelievable Truth, he’s been sticking to his guns ever since, making a dozen features characterized by his trademark deconstructed storytelling, deliberately artificial performances and offbeat deadpan humor. He’s a true independent at a time when that term no longer means much, and while his fan base hasn’t exactly grown, he’s stuck to the path that’s made him such a unique auteur. This is clearly the case with Ned Rifle, the final chapter of a trilogy kicked off in 1997 with Henry Fool and followed by 2006’s Fay Grim, which starred Parker Posey as the titular heroine trying to clean up a mess left by her ex-lover.”
Though he’s not won over by Ned Rifle, Jason Anderson, writing for Cinema Scope, nevertheless finds “something heartening about seeing the old gang get back together… Thomas Jay Ryan, Parker Posey, and James Urbaniak all return to their original roles, as does Liam Aiken, who was a mere tyke in the first film but here takes the lead as the eponymous, now 18-year-old protagonist (take that, Boyhood). Out of the Hartley loop since The Book of Life (1998), the once-ubiquitous Martin Donovan is back as well, assuming the role of the priest who raised Ned after the events that led to the incarceration of his mother Fay (Parker). Now a God-fearing young man, Ned sets off on a quest to rid the world of his still-on-the-lam father Henry (Ryan), who’s taken to claiming to be the Devil’s assistant, despite doing nothing more risqué in his latest adventure than copping a feel outside a convenience store and smoking a cigar indoors.”
“Sure, it’s all shtick,” grants Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club, “but the thing is the shtick is too peculiar and personal—a writerly non-realism built on choreographed movement around a stationary camera and a variety of motifs and devices borrowed from ’60s and ’80s Godard—to ever register as hackneyed. Repeating himself without ever lapsing into self-parody, Hartley has made a movie that will seem awfully familiar to his fans, but which also looks, sounds, and moves like nothing else on the current American indie landscape.”
“Though lacking the emotional depth and almost epic scope that made Henry Fool loom so large after Hartley’s anecdotal, idiosyncratic early features, Ned Rifle is a far more satisfactory extension of its memorable characters than the misbegotten Fay Grim,” finds Dennis Harvey in Variety. Oh, and Aubrey Plaza: “Playing a sexier, more troubled soul than on TV’s Parks and Recreation, latter nonetheless employs the same comedic deadpan to fit neatly into writer-helmer’s distinctive, terse yet garrulously funny universe.”
Ned Rifle “consolidates the appeal of Hartley’s work into a savvy group of irreverent moments and satiric asides that somehow manage to resonate on an emotional level as well,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “Hartley’s writing engenders the unique feeling of a familiar touch that still manages to surprise you. Ned Rifle excels at that effect.”
“The film does fumble towards some pathos in the final scenes and concludes the trilogy by bringing a degree of resolution for all of the main characters,” notes Allan Hunter in Screen Daily. “That is as good a reason as any for Hartley supporters to turn out.”
Updates, 9/14: For the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth, “what made Henry Fool so foul, delightful and insightful the first time around feels like diminishing returns in the third movie.” Henry Fool is “still easily the superior film of the trilogy. And the pleasure in its provocation, and boldness in its sensibility is something Hartley hasn’t managed to recapture in his subsequent sequels. That said, the filmmaker has created characters and a world that is compelling enough that you’re still engaged in their fates.”
Eric Kohn talks with Hartley for Indiewire.
Update, 9/15: “Hartley’s delight in artifice, his practiced Straubian deadpan, and his off-kilter tempo are all in place, and just as perplexing in their mix of the manic and the forlorn as if they were back in the old Sundance days,” writes Fernando F. Croce in the Notebook. “I was never a consistent admirer, yet Hartley has persevered on a personal path that time has deepened rather than eroded—what once was merely mannered now feels at times plangent.”
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