Directed by Hal Hartley
Henry and Fay's son Ned sets out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother's life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Grim family.
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★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd
For some reason I never wrote a proper review for Ned Rifle. It's probably because I had the task of interviewing Hal Hartley in conjunction with the film's American release, and so I channeled all my thinking about Rifle into questions for Hartley, rather than interpretations and conclusions.
What seems fairly obvious to me is that Rifle is a contradictory film, both of a piece with Hartley's earlier, best known work, and at the same time odder, more lurching and hesitant in terms of rhythm and performance modes. Looking back at the Hartley classics like Trust and The Unbelievable Truth, and struck by how smooth they seem, how beautifully orchestrated and clockwork-efficient. Even as they convey hesitancy and distanciation, they do so with a kind of balletic grace.
As Hartley moved onward through the Henry Fool trilogy -- particularly with Fay Grim and now Ned Rifle -- there is an evolution "in reverse," if you want to assume that master filmmakers naturally strive to make their art seem more and more effortless. Personally, I don't think that is Hartley's goal (nor is it an intrinsic virtue outside of capitalist precepts), but with his two most recent features, Meanwhile and Rifle, we see the stilted pacing at work in almost every facet. Actors hold still a little bit too long. Camerawork seems to hover in space in an eerily plastic manner, letting the hard flatness of DV assert itself.
It's almost as though Hartley's films have evolved to the degree that we are tacitly watching the directorial process in action. It's like we can see Hartley's choices between the shots, thinking time embossed on the screen like a divot.
In any case, here is my interview with Hartley. Enjoy.
★★★½ review by Michael Vazquez on Letterboxd
Like her personality but in a hot way, Aubrey Plaza has made some ODD movie choices lately post & pre-Parks & Rec but for the most part has worked for me due because of her spaced-out charisma & deadpan delivery, here in Ned Rifle is no different as she delivers her best role yet.
Granted, I haven't seen the first two movies of this supposedly trilogy with Parker Posey (one of my favorites) starring in them & on top of that, never seen a Hal Hartley movie in my life until this. But with all that said, I enjoyed this. I laughed a bit. I liked the Wes Anderson-esque writing a LOT. I liked the weird vibe it had going. I love Aubrey Plaza & Parker Posey.
It's an enjoyable, weird, different & brilliantly-written movie.
★★★★ review by Kurdt on Letterboxd
I can be so easily pleased. Place Aubrey Plaza in a Hal Hartley film and you’re practically guaranteeing me a good time. The final(?) film of Hartley’s Henry Fool trilogy sits nicely in between the two previous entries. As focused on characters interacting with one another as the first film, but still placing itself just about within a genre like the second. What Hartley excels at here is not only bringing the story full circle but also indicates why each entry has worked so well. Each character relies on another to live. Despite their insecurities and quirks each one is living for another and that’s what continues to drive them deep down under all the window dressing and witticisms. Hartley likes to highlight the pain through black comedy but only because his characters feel more comfortable showing pain, rather than revealing their weaker side of love. Characters do bad things that wouldn’t usually be redeemable but Hartley’s always bopping along writing (and editing) style always keeps his films relatively light and allows his audience to see the good in the people on screen. Everyone just wants to be found, or rediscovered, or to kill the person that denied them the person they care about most. But in Hartley’s world, the end is always just about out of reach. Maybe it all finishes a little abruptly, but that’s life and that’s Hartley. Nothing quite works out like it’s supposed to, his characters have to adapt and re-adapt and move on. It also works as a satire on intellectuals and how being one puts you above most in brainpower but at the same time behind the curve due to overthinking. Sometimes an unprovoked gunshot says more than a thesis.
★★★½ review by Molly Ringworm on Letterboxd
In contrast to the first two films of this trilogy, Ned Rifle comes across as the most traditionally Hal Hartley movie of them all. It is unfortunate though that the eponymous protagonist comes close to being a cipher, which is something rare in Hartley's work. Even the minor characters in other films of his have character. However, this flaw is compensated by the presence of Aubrey Plaza (not to snub the always wonderful and inimitable Thomas Jay Ryan), who has such an innately oddball and energetic (when not deadpan) presence that she manages to transcend those times when her character threatens to slide into broad caricature.
★★★★ review by Geir Friestad on Letterboxd
Hal Hartley, indie darling of the ‘90s, sort of lost his mojo with the turn of the century, and really struggled for the better part of a decade to regain it. No Such Thing and The Girl from Monday – especially the former – lacked everything that made Hartley’s movies so special, and only with his 2006 followup to Henry Fool, Fay Grim, did he sort of rekindle his old magic. But not completely. Fay Grim, a response of sorts to the events of 9.11, suffered crucially from trying to tell a too tall a tale. Plot has never been Hartley’s forte, dialog and rhythm has, and in Fay Grim’s case, the overstuffed plot and signature dialog clashed, to overall detrimental effect.
Five year later, however, a successful Kickstarter campaign led to the modestly sized and paced Meanwhile, and it was in every way a complete and utterly delightful return to form for Hartley. And now, another Kickstarter campaign has given us the third chapter in the Henry Fool trilogy.
Ned Rifle, taking its name from Hartley’s old soundtrack composer pseudonym, focuses on Henry and Fay’s son, Ned. For complicated reasons – Fay Grim’s plot was overly elaborate, remember – Henry is on the lam, Fay is in prison for life for terrorism, and Ned is in a witness protection program, living with a devout Christian family. As the movie opens, it’s Ned’s 18th birthday, and he takes leave of his surrogate family with a mission in mind: to track down his father and kill him for ruining his mother’s life.
This new movie very much has a “let’s get the band back together again” feel to it, and much like Meanwhile has the old Hal Hartley spark to it. All of the principal characters from the two previous movies are back, and when viewed back to back to back, the triplet of movies, much like Linklater’s Before trilogy, offers up the captivating effect of watching the characters actually grow up and older over time.
New to Hartley’s stable of actors is Aubrey Plaza, as a stalker fangirl who insinuates herself into the Grim/Fool family affairs. She’s a perfect conduit for Hartley’s signature deadpan dialog, and is the main source of unpredictability and chaos in the movie, to great effect.
Unlike the previous two movies, Ned Rifle doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at a comfortable 85 minutes, and while I’m not so sure it all (all, as in the entire trilogy) really amounts to all that much in the end – more surface than substance – it’s still a pleasing enough yarn that it spins. And frankly, it’s just so damn cool to have Hal Hartley back in proper action again! More, please!
Full disclosure: I contributed to the Kickstarter funding of this movie.
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