Greetings again from the darkness. The third and final entry to writer/director Hal Hartley’s trilogy provides a fitting end to the saga that began in 1997 with Henry Fool, and continued in 2006 with Fay Grim. Mr. Hartley’s style lends itself well to the indie world and film festival circuit, as he connects with unusually paced and elevated dialogue, an arid-dry sense of humor, and a slew of misfit characters.
The four main characters have been played by the same actors across all three films. Liam Aiken was only 7 years old when he first played Ned, and he becomes the focus of this final chapter. Ned is the son of Fay (Parker Posey) and Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan). When this story picks up, Fay is serving a life sentence in federal prison for terrorist activities, and Henry’s whereabouts are unknown … except by “Uncle” Simon (James Urbaniak), the garbage man-turned-poet laureate.
Ned is turning 18 years old and has spent four years in witness protection as part of a family led by a guilt-ridden Reverend (Martin Donovan). Ned has really taken to religion – especially the fire and brimstone vengeance parts. See, Ned blames Henry for Fay’s life turn and aims to gain revenge.
The first part of the movie has Ned and Susan (Aubrey Plaza) tracking down Henry. Susan is the grad student supposedly working with Fay on her autobiography, and stalking Simon for his poetic metaphysics. But of course, Susan has secrets and some are less than pleasant.
Once Henry is located, Mr. Ryan provides a nice energy boost and shift in tone. He is one glorious film character … unless of course, you are his son or some other poor schmuck left floundering in his wake of life. He and Ned don’t really have much of a bond, but Ryan and Plaza create some fireworks that some may find a bit creepy.
Just keeping up with the rapid-fire dialogue from Henry, Simon and Susan is a cinematic joy, and the off-beat humor prevents the dark material from ever reaching a bleak stage. When Ned visits Fay in prison she asks disgustedly “You’re religious?” – making it clear that she, a convicted felon, is extremely disappointed in her 18 year old son. It’s played for a laugh and gets one. There is another line spouted by Susan that includes a review of “obscene work indifferent to mainstream approval”. We have little doubt that line was written by Mr. Hartley to describe his own work.