In this, his third feature, Hal Hartley covers familiar territory, a quietly anarchic world where articulate, lovelorn, aimless characters come together more by chance than anything else. Nonetheless, SIMPLE MEN represents a substantial leap forward for this prolific filmmaker. It's also
graced with the refreshingly adult, if occasionally indulgent, dialogue which has become Hartley's trademark.
After masterminding a computer heist, Bill McCabe (Robert Burke) is double-crossed by his girlfriend Vera (Mary McKenzie) and partner Frank (James Hansen Prince). Suddenly solo and on the lam, he inadvertently hooks up with his younger brother, Dennis (William Sage), an erstwhile philosophy
student who's determined to track down their absentee father, William McCabe (John A. MacKay), the notorious "shortstop anarchist." A former major-league ball player, McCabe has recently been apprehended, twenty-three years after hurling a bomb on the steps of the Pentagon--an action which
resulted in several innocent deaths.
Together, Bill and Dennis head for the hospital where their father's been taken following a heart seizure, only to discover that he's staged a masterful escape. They next approach their long-suffering mother for possible leads; all she can offer them is a faded snapshot of a bathing beauty named
Tara, with a Long Island telephone number scrawled on the back. Unfortunately, it's disconnected. Undaunted, the brothers pool their meager resources and get as far as Lindenhurst (Hartley's hometown and favorite locale), where they stay just long enough to become embroiled with a
cigarette-smoking nun, an alluring Catholic schoolgirl, a frustrated biker and the local authorities. The film reaches its first comic peak when Dennis and Bill make their getaway on a motorcyle while the nun and an overly officious cop tussle over a pendant of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Brokenhearted and bitter over Vera's betrayal, Bill has declared that instead of falling for the next beautiful blond he meets, as is his custom, he's going to make her fall for him, then torment her with his studied indifference. As luck would have it, their motorcycle soon breaks down on a
seemingly deserted byway where they happen upon Kate (Karen Sillas), a blond beauty whose companion, Elina (Elina Lowensohn), is having an epileptic fit in a nearby field. Fearing the imminent return of her ex-husband Jack (Joe Stevens), a recently released con, Kate invites the brothers to stay
on for a few days, which incites the jealousy of Jack's best friend Martin (Martin Donovan), who's hopelessly in love with Kate. By now, of course, so is Bill.
The McCabe siblings finally trace the number to a local house, but it's been burned to the ground. Meanwhile, Dennis begins to suspect that the mysterious, mercurial Elina is somehow involved with his father. No sooner has he discovered that she's his old man's girlfriend, however, than she
vanishes. And Tara, it turns out, is no lady--it's Martin's fishing vessel, also visible in the snapshot. Dennis drives off to confront his father while Bill, having won Kate's heart, deals with the surprisingly meek Jack. But the law finally catches up with Bill, who sacrifices his own freedom to
ensure his father's safety.
Hartley is one of the few contemporary American filmmakers who's managed to create his own cinematic universe, even if it is overwhelmingly white, heterosexual and curiously underpopulated. SIMPLE MEN is also a little too self-conciously quirky at times, the biggest blunder being the admittedly
beautiful Elina--there is no intrinsic reason for her character to be a Romanian expatriate subject to epileptic fits.
His chiseled good looks notwithstanding, Robert Burke is a curious choice for leading man, considering his limited range as an actor. While equally handsome, William Sage fares somewhat better as Burke's befuddled younger brother, but neither performance overrides the fact that the McCabe boys
locate their father a little too easily. After all, he's eluded the FBI for over two decades, yet Bill and Dennis more or less stumble into him. Also, for never having seen his father, Dennis is decidedly underwhelmed when they finally come face to face. Rounding out the cast, Martin Donovan is
typically engaging and newcomer Damian Young scores as a sheriff with marital woes, but it's a sweetly woebegone Karen Sillas who's the real standout.
On the whole, SIMPLE MEN is beautifully structured, less piecemeal than either THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH or TRUST, with seemingly random or throwaway bits of business dovetailing effortlessly as the story unfolds. The gorgeous acoustic score is credited to one Ned Rifle, a pseudonym for the
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: In this, his third feature, Hal Hartley covers familiar territory, a quietly anarchic world where articulate, lovelorn, aimless characters come together more by chance than anything else. Nonetheless, SIMPLE MEN represents a substantial leap forward for th… (more)