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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Ned Rifle’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Ned Rifle'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only
few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Ned Rifle”
Dir: Hal Hartley
Criticwire Average: B

Richard Linklater isn’t the only indie auteur with a decades-spanning trilogy. ’90s indie icon Hal Hartley had one of his biggest critical hits in 1997 with “Henry Fool,” about the friendship between introverted garbage man Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and raconteur/aspiring novelist Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan). In 2006, Hartley returned to that film’s world with “Fay Grim,” which followed Simon’s sister and Henry’s wife Fay (Parker Posey, reprising her role) as she’s caught up in an international conspiracy. Now, Hartley is back with the crowdfunded sequel “Ned Rifle,” which stars Liam Aiken as Fay and Henry’s son Ned as he vows to kill his father for ruining his mother’s life.

“Ned Rifle” isn’t likely to appeal to non-Possible Films fans (i.e. people who don’t know what that means): Hartley’s deadpan, deliberately-mannered style is an acquired taste, and this film is both slighter than its predecessors and more clearly designed as a fans-only proposition (even its title is taken from a frequent Hartley pseudonym). But there are pleasures to be had in returning to the world of Henry Fool and company, whether it’s spending more time with Ryan’s eternally loquacious hedonist or seeing how well Aubrey Plaza, playing a mysterious woman from Henry’s past, fits into Hartley’s world. Above all else, it’s nice to see a director following his muse and refusing to chase indie trends, negligible commercial appeal be damned.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club

Consequently, anyone coming to “Ned Rifle” cold will be bewildered. But there are numerous pleasures for the initiated, from Ryan’s continuing dissolute mellifluence as Henry Fool to Simon’s rebirth as a terrible stand-up comic constantly monitoring the comments on his blog. Read more.

Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

“Ned Rifle” is unabashedly a fans’ movie. Its jokes assume fluency with “Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim” and even early details from Mr. Hartley’s films. (The name Ned Rifle has appeared throughout his career, often as a credit for the lilting scores he composes.) But even if this minor coda plays to an increasingly closed circle of admirers, it gives the trilogy a pleasing, moving symmetry. Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

With “Ned Rifle,” Hartley brings this eccentric trilogy to a close, centering on Henry and Fay’s forlorn son as yet another template for skewering American sensibilities. The result consolidates the appeal of Hartley’s work into a savvy group of irreverent moments and satiric asides that somehow manage to resonate on an emotional level as well. Hartley’s writing engenders the unique feeling of a familiar touch that still manages to surprise you. “Ned Rifle” excels at that effect. Read more.

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

With a simple framing style, light score and remarkably short running time, “Ned Rifle” zips along from beginning to end, which may lead some fans of “meatier” films like “Henry Fool” disappointed, but there’s an infectious energy that makes this one of Hartley’s most likable works. It’s also just damn funny and smart. Lines like “The good of free will must entail real choices for sin” and “You’d think a religion would help teach people how the ungodly operate” zip by in the clever, dialogue-heavy script at such a fast pace that it almost demands a rewatch to catch all of them. Read more.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

Say this for “Ned Rifle”: Aubrey Plaza was born to be a Hal Hartley player, showing more of an ease with his cutting deadpan rhythms than even a veteran like Posey. She’s also a natural femme fatale—confident and house-afire sexy, with mysteries tucked away behind dark eyeliner and misapplied ruby-red lipstick. As good as it is to have veterans like Ryan, Donovan, and Urbaniak back in the Hartleyverse, Plaza is a reminder of the virtues of moving forward. Read more.

Zachary Wigon, Village Voice

Hartley and Stillman emerged on the American indie scene simultaneously, and much like his confrere, Hartley is a gifted practitioner of mannered, dry comedy; but what emerges during Ned’s journey is, unexpectedly, a narrative tension that moves the film almost into thriller territory. Hartley’s humor and intellectual musings are, as always, fully present, but by anchoring them to a genuinely compelling story of familial retribution, he’s made his best film in years. Read more.

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