×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Yellow Handkerchief

Director Udayan Prasad transposes an urban myth, first published in 1971 by Pete Hamil, to post-Katrina Louisiana.

With:
Brett - William Hurt May - Maria Bello Martine - Kristen Stewart Gordy - Eddie Redmayne

In “The Yellow Handerchief,” director Udayan Prasad transposes an urban myth, first published in 1971 by Pete Hamill, to post-Katrina Louisiana, crafting a thoughtful, niche-oriented portrait of four off-the-beaten-path characters trying to find their way. As Hamill originally tells it, an ex-con hitches a ride with a group of teenagers to see the wife he left on the outside. Unsure of his standing after the long prison sentence, he has instructed her via postcard to hang a yellow handkerchief outside the house if she’ll have him back. He comes home to find 20, 30, maybe hundreds awaiting him. Better pack your hankies.

Actually, what sounds like just another weepy Reader’s Digest story (no surprise: the magazine actually reprinted Hamill’s article in 1972) takes on real gravitas in Prasad’s hands, fleshed out by its four-person cast. As Brett, the forlorn ex-con, William Hurt uses his eyes to project the soul his soft-spoken character hides from the world. One of the movie’s running themes suggests that faces often say more about a person than words, and apart from a few on-the-nose lines of dialogue, that philosophy puts the performances front and center.

Brett hitches a ride with two complete strangers — Martine (Kristen Stewart), a heartbroken 15-year-old firefly of a girl flaunting her sexuality in hopes that someone will want her, and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), an insecure young man convinced of his own abnormality — sensing in them a tentative dance of attraction.

Though he acts as their chaperone, whispering character-building words of encouragement on cue, Brett needs their company, too. Nearly anything he sees (a torrential rainstorm, a broken windowpane) triggers a textural flashback to May (Maria Bello), the fragile soul he left waiting for him. As the film progresses, he opens up to the kids, telling them his story, and the balance between past and present-day scenes shifts, revealing the reason for his incarceration (not nearly as heinous as we might imagine).

In making the story her own, screenwriter Erin Dignam shifts the attention from plot-forwarding actions to interactions, constructing poignant moments between the different characters. These life travelers aren’t necessarily eloquent, but they feel genuinely lived-in, frequently acting on impulse and barely-sublimated desire.

Though both Hurt and Stewart appeared in “Into the Wild” last year, here they’re given sufficient screentime to explore their enigmatic characters. And fresh face Redmayne embodies his redneck persona so convincingly, you’d never suspect the young Brit got his start playing Shakespeare.

Gator sightings and other glimpses of swamp life can’t be avoided in a pic like this, though Chris Menges’ evocative lensing captures the atmosphere without resorting to Terrence Malick-like environmental cutaways. Prasad takes his time with the material, capturing both the characters and their surroundings with real depth.

The Yellow Handkerchief

Production: An Arthur Cohn production. Produced by Cohn. Executive producer, Lillian Birnbaum. Directed by Udayan Prasad. Screenplay by Erin Dignam, based on the story by Pete Hamill.

Crew: Camera (color widescreen), Chris Menges; editor, Christopher Tellefsen; music, Eef Barzelay, Jack Livesay; music supervisor, Susan Jacobs; production designer, Monroe Kelly; costume designer, Caroline Eselin; sound (Dolby, DTS, SDDS), Jeffrey E. Haupt; supervising sound editor, Paul Hsu; associate producers, Jeannette Eckenstein, Samuel Falk, Esther Grether, Annetta Grisard; casting, Sharon Howard-Field. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2008. Running time: 102 MIN.

With: Brett - William Hurt May - Maria Bello Martine - Kristen Stewart Gordy - Eddie Redmayne

More Film

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally agreed upon that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies by iconic [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

  • 180423_A24_Day_03B_0897.jpg

    Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe's The Lighthouse' Wins Cannes Critics' Award

    Robert Eggers’ “The Lighthouse,” with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, won the Cannes Film Festival critics’ award for best first or second feature in Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week, one of the first prizes for which “The Lighthouse” has been eligible at Cannes. The award was announced Saturday in Cannes by the Intl. Federation of [...]

  • promenade Cannes Croisette Cannes Placeholder

    Cannes Market Claims Record Visitor Numbers

    The Cannes Market, the Cannes Film Festival’s commercial wing, says that its 2019 edition welcomed a record number of participants. It reported 12,527 attendees. The largest group by nationality was from the U.S. with 2,264 participants, followed by France with 1,943 participants, and the U.K. 1,145. Comparable figures for 2018 were not available. The number [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Alien' at 40: Ridley Scott Explains Why 'You Don't Show the Monster Too Many Times'

    It’s difficult to imagine Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic “Alien” without the clear-minded, strong presence of Tom Skerritt as Dallas, the captain of the ill-fated Nostromo. But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content