Ned Rifle (2014) Directed By Hal Hartley

End game. Who knew that Hal Hartley's masterful Henry Fool (increasingly coming off as his finest movie) would spawn a trilogy, his own Boyhood if you like. Hartley has managed to retain all the principal players over a 17 year period. And although Fay Grim (the 2nd of the trilogy) came off as a slight disappointment, Ned Rifle rounds off this improbable series in fine Hartley style. Put simply, Ned Rifle comes over as a Greatest Hits album of Hartley cinema, carefully compiled, all the expected Hartley ingredients (minus one) are here. Liam Aiken (Ned Rifle) has grown into an astute Hartley style actor – he's still very young and has appeared as a child in the previous two films. Parker Posey, James Urbaniak and crucially Thomas Jay Ryan reprises his Henry Fool role, in all it's glorious distaste. But Hal brings more to Ned Rifle's table – he brings some of his most iconic actors from the Hartley cannon to embellish slighter roles in the picture. Hartley regulars Martin Donovan, Bill Sage, Robert John Burke and Karen Silas all appear to help bring familiarity and that slightly angular prose to life. This could be the most Hal Hartleyesque picture ever.

Susan and Ned try to lose each other in Ned Rifle
But the real deal is clinched by Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), who judging by her performance here as the not quite what she seems Susan was born to be in a Hartley vehicle. The missing ingredient I mentioned? Well, the late and great Adrienne Shelley, but Plaza could be the new Hartley muse. She perfectly embodies Hartley's aesthetics and delivers his dialogue with the exact level of distance yet off-kilter reason. One dialogue from Plaza's character could easily be describing Hartley's career, where she discusses indifference to mainstream approval. Plaza also embodies the Hartley tradition of sexy yet emerging and smart leading ladies. Yes, we have jokes here. It's all dry, but it can't hide the fact that Ned Rifle is very dark in essence. Everyone is tainted with madness (clinical), underage rape (probably), incandescent liaison's and fraudulent behaviour. Even Simon Grim (Urbaniak) has lost his way and his online Youtube comedy fails to inspire like his once ground breaking poetry did. In actual fact it's only Ned, a religious young man whose intentions seem pure (however misguided), who leaves the film with virtue. Still, Hartley makes sure Ned's dealt a bum hand.

Aubrey Plaza as Susan represents the quintessential Hartley character 
And it's the ending that brings Ned Rifle into the great territory. Echoing Amateur's moving denouement, Ned Rifle ends in a blaze of violence, accident and heartbreak, and merely by association Ned is cruelly denied (a life?) by Henry. And that's what we glean from Ned Rifle. Henry Fool, despite himself, brings revelation to those closest to him, yet accidentally brings them heartbreak and ill fortune too. Henry possesses genius aspects, but is awful at the mundane, the social and the trivialities which he sees as being beneath him, yet often contribute to his downfall. Ned Rifle isn't perfect, and in referencing himself, Hartley brings us at times material that is all too familiar. Truth be told, I'm just happy Hartley's still making pictures. So we have to be thankful for small things and a new Hartley picture is rare. I shall be revisiting the trilogy (with a second viewing and hopefully better understanding of Fay Grim) as soon a possible. Now, let's have another one soon, eh Hal?

So we went to Austin, discovered American Netflix and made plans to watch all kinds of great things that were suddenly available. The only thing standing in the way was my jet-lag, which forced my eyes to close right around 9PM. Eventually we got around to watching Ned Rifle, an obsession of Nick's as it is another Hal Hartley movie. At this point I feel like Hal Hartley is an heirloom that has been passed down to me to treasure. Watching Hartley films always makes me think of the days long gone when I was 19 and fell in love with a man who had Amateur on VHS.

A rare moment with Henry Fool in Ned Rifle
Ned Rifle follows after Henry Fool and Fay Grim. It continues the narrative from where Fay Grim ended – a somewhat baffling and messy place involving terrorist acts, prison and melancholia. If I remember correctly. Ned is all grown up now, he leaves his religious foster family to carry out what to him is the obvious deed: find his father and kill him. Things don't go quite as planned. But this movie is really not about the plot, it is a beautifully constructed collection of moments that rely on interaction between characters.

There's not enough Parker Posey in this film, but she's great when she's on screen
The strange thing is that now that I'm watching a Hal Hartley picture from the time that I am living, it changes my perspective. The 1990s films viewed a decade later have a quality and value to them which comes from being of their era. Nostalgia plays its part. Watching Ned Rifle, the final film from the trilogy as a new movie in current time brings up a new thought: Is Hartley stuck in his way of doing things? A man out of time? I kind of love the fact that it seems so, but his sound and visual style could also be conceptualized as signs of him not taking risks and not moving forward. On the other hand though, why fix it if it ain't broke?


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