Writer-director Julian Goldberger, whose 1999 debut, “Trans,” drew a coterie of admirers with its meditative approach and rigorous non-aesthetic, squanders the resources of a proven producing team and talented actors in his murkily metaphorical sophomore feature, “The Hawk Is Dying.” Based on Harry Crews’ novel about a dirt-poor Central Florida man touched by tragedy who refuses to join his family in the traditional grieving process, this self-conscious exercise in narrative obfuscation likely will have its first and last significant exposure at Sundance, hitting the ultra-arty end of the fest trail thereafter.
Performers capable of exquisite work elsewhere are undirected here. Paul Giamatti, who plays a man channeling his guilt into a sanity-testing obsession with falconry following the freak drowning of his mentally challenged nephew (Michael Pitt), indulges in actorish explosions of emotional volatility. Meanwhile, Michelle Williams, as a stoner psych student, embodies the film’s overriding dramatic inertia. Crews (who lost his own child in a drowning) is known for his trenchantly honest prose, which here is translated by Goldberger with such affected rawness and technical austerity that the pain of the characters is merely distancing. Already gasping for breath in its opening scenes, pic takes two bleak, unyielding hours to finally expire.