Movies & Videos: April 1993

Movies & Video: April 1993


Simple men say things like “The first beautiful woman I meet, I’m not going to fall in love with. That’ll show her.” Simple men do things like infiltrate high tech companies at the ground level in order to rob them blind. Simple men make simple statements, such as “Why do women exist?” or “Falling in love is like sticking an ice pick in your forehead.”

The world of Hal Hartley is filled with simple men and women. The irony of this world is that all the simple aims of people are trapped within vastly different existences based upon a giant resource of knowledge. Discovering someone’s simple nature becomes beams a delirious and welcome task when staring at Simple Men on a big screen.

With his third feature film, Hartley proves that the pit of humanity can endlessly be scoured for thought-provoking movie scripts. I wouldn’t exactly call his body of work a trilogy, 1, even though it’s all stylistically and idealistically similar (including past Sundance Festival hits The Unbelievable Truth and Trust). Rather, you get the impression that Hartley could continue doing the same thing over and over, each time getting better at a lie, while uncovering something else from a world fraught with discovery. Hartley has already been cast within the slacker dictum, but he’s really creating his own unique world or point of view.

The two brothers in Simple Men are on a quest for truth, partially because they suddenly have to (their baseball star/rebel outlaw father becomes arrested, has a heart attack and subsequently escapes from the hospital), and partially because they have nothing else to do or want to do. The older brother has just lost what he thought was true love, as well as his stake in a high-end robbery, while the younger brother has lost his desire for education, and has probably never even had a girlfriend. Together, they stumble along the path of truth, which is filled with many strange and interesting characters. Each must grasp their inner qualities and see them through to make their peace. It’s the sort of journey we all talk about at the bar each night, and promptly forget the next morning.

The film certainly meanders around a lot, but holds together in its intentions, leading to simple conclusions that make the title remarkably ironic. Hartley’s cast is exceptional, utilizing most of his past actors in just the right doses. He even plays with his own sensibilities, presenting acute-as the-devil schoolgirl as the first female character. Fortunately, she drops out of the picture, to be replaced by two strangely fascinating and diametrically opposed leading ladies. The dialogue never seems to stop, yet constantly grabs your attention, whether due to its ultimate importance, or just its down right lunacy.

That is the key to what makes this man’s films so worth watching. Hartley works at perfecting the deadpan delivery, surrounding it with subtle behavior and an emotional charge reflecting an everyday world. A first pass through the film is most effective on one level, the style engulfing the viewer to a point where it’s overwhelming. A second or third viewing bears into the soul of the director, and reveals aspects of the work that are of a finer nature.

My impression of why Hartley is such a good director is not only based on what he injects into the construction of a film, but also what he avoids. His pictures are not glossed over in pretty sets or unfounded pretension, as they easily could be in the hands of Hollywood. The fact that he has yet to break into wide release and too few people will see this film, only works to support the integrity of Hartley as a director. The selection of the cast—which remains fairly consistent through his pictures—is that of people who are intriguing to look at.

They seem genuine, but are not necessarily glamorous. In fact, a lot of his players will certainly go on to make a lot more money than he will, because of the marvelous showcase he has afforded them. His current lead, Robert Burke, is already supposedly the next Robocop, and past fave Adrienne Shelley is currently on the cover of Spin, even though she’s gone on to work in progressively worse films. BillSage, the philosophy-ridden brother in Simple Men, has dollar signs all over his face after gleamingly controlling his performance in this film. It is, however, Hartley who created the role and made it work, as Sage has proven in the utterly dismal film Rift from this year’s Sundance Festival.

So, if you want to see a true American original and his fine ensemble, go check out Simple Men, playing at the Tower Theatre at the end of this month.

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Movie Reviews: March 1993
Movie Reviews: February 1993