You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Ned Rifle’

This completion of the trilogy that began with 1997's 'Henry Fool' is also Hal Hartley's best since that film.

Liam Aiken, Martin Donovan, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Robert John Burke, Karen Sillas, Bill Sage, Melissa Bithom, Jefferson Mays, Bob Byington, Lloyd Kaufman.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2925768/

Still Hal Hartley’s best and most popular film, 1997’s “Henry Fool” seemed the beginning of a new phase; unfortunately, the phase turned out to be a dismaying long slide from that artistic and commercial peak, one not particularly slowed by the silly international-intrigue antics of the first “Henry” sequel, “Fay Grim,” a decade later. Hope springs eternal, however, and there’s relief in the fact that while “Ned Rifle” is no “Fool,” it’s still the writer-helmer’s best work since then. Bringing back the original principal characters while shifting primary focus to two next-generation ones, this characteristically sly, unpredictable comedy-adventure should rouse Hartley fans from hibernation to score wider visibility than he’s enjoyed in some time.

Seven years after she unwisely tried to track down incorrigibly hedonistic would-be author and husband Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan), getting involved in terrorist activities as a hapless result, Fay (Parker Posey) is serving a life sentence in a federal penitentiary for crimes against the state. In the meantime their son Ned (Liam Aiken) has been foster-parented under a Witness Protection Program pseudonym by Rev. Gardner (Martin Donovan) and his family, emerging a pious believer albeit the kind more interested in hellfire retribution than forgiveness. Upon his 18th birthday, he determines to track down the fugitive father he believes ruined his mother’s life and kill him for his sins.

But first he has to find him. After visiting Mom in lockup (“You’re religious?!” she exclaims, baffled), he pays a visit to reclusive former-poet-laureate uncle Simon (James Urbaniak), who suspects Henry might be hiding out in Seattle. Tagging along without an invitation is Susan (Aubrey Plaza), who’s written her graduate dissertation on Simon Grim’s work but as the pic goes along, her real agenda is revealed as something far more complex than mere obsessing over an admired writer.

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.” It’s a real pleasure to see Urbaniak, Posey and live-wire Ryan slip back into these singular characters; a variety of smaller roles are cannily cast with Hartley regulars and other capable hands. (Including, briefly and oddly, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman.)

But the emphasis this time is handed over to the younger figures played by Aiken (who’s played the same role in all three films, since age 7) and 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. Her character may stir controversy in some quarters due to a revelation of past consensual sex between an adult and someone way under the legal limit.

While Hartley has never been one for lush aesthetics, the pic has a definite tight-budget feel unalleviated by his own original synth-based score. That doesn’t detract from its appeal, however.

Film Review: 'Ned Rifle'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 7, 2014. Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Fortissimo Films presentation of a Possible Films production. (International sales: Possible, New York.) Produced by Matthew Myers, Hal Hartley Executive producers, Aidan O'Bryan, Robert Orenstein, Jim Rodney, Stella Sakadakolakis, Joe Shapiro, Don Thompson. Co-producers, Julie Christie, Stuart Harris, Laurel Warbrick.

Crew: Directed, written by Hal Hartley. Camera (color, HD), Vladimir Subotic; editor, Kyle Gilman; music, Hartley; production designer, Richard Sylvarnes; costume designer, Sandy Siu; sound, Patrick Southern; re-recording mixer, Tom Paul; sound editor, Chris Davis; assistant director, Arinn Amer.

With: Liam Aiken, Martin Donovan, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Robert John Burke, Karen Sillas, Bill Sage, Melissa Bithom, Jefferson Mays, Bob Byington, Lloyd Kaufman.

More Film

  • I Lost My Body

    Netflix Pickup ‘I Lost My Body,’ ‘Buñuel,’ ‘Away’ Top Annecy Festival

    ANNECY, France  — Fulfilling expectations, Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body, the subject of one of the highest-profile Netflix deals at this year’s Cannes, won this Saturday the Annecy Festival’s top Cristal Award of best feature plus, in a relatively rare Annecy double whammy, the festival’s Audience Award. The first was expected, the second a [...]

  • 'Fausto' Review: Andrea Bussmann's Beautuful, Inscrutable

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

    In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re [...]

  • Toy Story 4

    The 15 Best Films of 2019 (So Far)

    By now, audiences have caught on to the way American distributors tend to stockpile their quality movies for end-of-year award-season release, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t treasures to be found in the first two quarters. In fact, sometimes it’s the movies that aren’t making a self-important Oscar push that wind up hitting closest to [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Taking in $26 Million Amid Franchise Fatigue

    North American moviegoers spurned sequels this weekend with Sony’s “Men in Black: International” heading for a modest $26 million debut while “Shaft” will finish with a dismal $7.3 million in seventh place. “Men in Black: International,” the fourth iteration of the sci-fi comedy franchise, is performing under expectations, which had been in the $30 million [...]

  • Night scenery of the Bund in

    Shanghai Festival Defies Gloom to Open on Upbeat Note

    The Chinese film industry may not yet have emerged from a “cold winter” production freeze, nor its box office kept pace with 2018. But but those inclement elements did not put a chill on the pageantry at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The opening ceremony for the festival’s 22nd edition went ahead Saturday with the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content