Henry Fool

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Henry walks out of nowhere, with a fag in his face, and takes up residence in the Grim basement. It doesn't matter where this is - America after The Fall. The milieu has the look of despair and the smell of failiure. Hal Hartley's locations never shout out loud. They exist in capsules, where the air has been changed too often.

Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) is too young to have lost the will to live and yet whatever spark existed in the pale innocence of his childhood has been extinguished by lack of interest. He works as a garbage man, looks after his sick mother and is insulted by his sister, Fay (Parker Posey), who treats sex as a weapon, seducing men with flirtatious promise and then kicking them out for not loving her enough.

Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) has secrets that cannot be condoned. He is a man of words and great expectation, talking of literary extravagance and a work in progress that will devastate the publishing elite. He has no money, only a thousand ideas. Not surprisingly, he captivates the flacid imaginations of those around him with language that soars like a bird. Why hunger for ordinariness when you can feast on talent's rich fare?

Simon is influenced and encouraged by this hobo charmer, enough to sit down, whenever he has a moment, and scribble a monstrous, angry, obscene poem that has terrible and extraordinary consequences. Hartley has written a dark and dangerous fable. Every image has an intensity, every word a place to go. "There are three kinds of 'there'," Henry says. What? Hartley weaves his spell, as he has done before, with pristine originality. There are two kinds of wonderful, Hal's and Hartley's.

Ryan, who returns for second helpings, as the Devil, in Hartley's next piece, The Book Of Life, makes his motion picture debut as Mr Fool. He is very different from Hal's regulars, Robert Burke and Martin Donovan, in that he is expressive and animated. There is a physicality about him, which would have been anathema in the early days. Posey is irresistable. She has perfected the dysfunctional bitch to such a degree, it is pure sweet delight, masochisticly speaking, to keep your eyes on her. Urbaniak has the hardest task, to be nothing and yet someone. He makes you give a damn, a considerable achievement in Nerd City, where the lights go out before they come on.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Dark fable about a novelist hobo who introduces a man to literature, with extraordinary consequences.
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Director: Hal Hartley

Writer: Hal Hartley

Starring: Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, Maria Porter, James Saito, Kevin Corrigan, Liam Aiken, Miho Nikaido, Gene Ruffini, Nicholas Hope, Diana Ruppe, Veanne Cos, Jan Leslie Harding

Year: 1997

Runtime: 137 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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