Director Hal Hartley was a key member of the 1990’s American independent film movement as someone who made films that were minimalist, witty, intelligent, and undeniably “cool.” His control over the arthouse scene thrust actors like Adrienne Shelly, Martin Donovan, Robert Burke, and James Urbaniak into the indie spotlight and captured the hearts and minds of cinephiles everywhere. But then Hartley slowly fell out of the spotlight around 2001 with his widely panned film “No Such Thing” coupled with the film industry eventually squeezing out smaller, more enigmatic works. He received newfound attention when his latest film “Ned Rifle,” the final film in a trilogy following characters in “Henry Fool” and “Fay Grim,” was released in 2014. Now, his first two films, “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust,” have finally hit iTunes.
“The Unbelievable Truth” stars Adrienne Shelly as Audry Hugo, a high school graduate expected to remain with her boyfriend and to become a fashion model, but instead she falls for Josh (Robert Burke), a mechanic with a dangerous past. Rumors around town say that Josh is a murderer, but Audry sees him differently. Though “The Unbelievable Truth” establishes plenty of Hartley trademarks, especially his theatrical-sounding dialogue, Hartley hones his skills further with his sophomore effort “Trust.” Like “The Unbelievable Truth,” “Trust” also stars Adrienne Shelly as Maria, a pregnant high school graduate who forms a relationship with a mysterious young man with a violent past named Matthew (Martin Donovan). Funny and melancholic simultaneously, “Trust” traffics in the absurd with Maria’s father dropping dead after hearing the news of her pregnancy and Matthew carrying around a grenade all the time, but unlike what Hartley’s reputation suggests, the relationship between Maria and Matthew contains genuine emotion and feeling. Hartley’s beating heart exists behind some layers of constructed irony, but it’s worth it for viewers to try and peel it back for themselves.
More thoughts from the web:
“The Unbelievable Truth”
Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com
“The Unbelievable Truth” is a movie for film buffs. Those who wander in off the street are likely to be confused, since it seems to be so unsprung and without purpose. What Hartley is doing, however, is writing a film essay on conventions and cliches and middle-American movie characters. He establishes them as completely ordinary, and then he lets them wander off into the byways of their destinies. What makes the film fun is the deadpan, tongue-in-cheek humor that undermines the seemingly sincere dramatic scenes. Read more.
Caryn James, The New York Times
Two beautiful, somber-faced people dressed entirely in black, Audry and Josh are a perfect match, the weirdest but most sensible characters in Hal Hartley’s droll, lucid black comedy, “The Unbelievable Truth.” This is the kind of small-scale independent movie with a familiar story behind it. The film was written, directed, edited and co-produced by Mr. Hartley, whose relatives took out bank loans and let him use their suburban houses on Long Island as sets during the 11 1/2 days it took to shoot most of the movie. But the story on screen is fresher and more accomplished than that predictable behind-the-scenes struggle would suggest. As Audry and Josh, Adrienne Shelly and Robert Burke never push their characters into campy comedy. Instead, they provide the film with an archness and shrewd pessimism that seem to reinvent 1950’s cool in the face of contemporary culture. Read more.
Geoff Andrew, Time Out
Like “Mystery Train” and “Metropolitan,” Hartley’s independent first feature partly concerns problems of knowledge and truth: how do hearsay and personal bias relate to reality? He adopts an engagingly low-key form of farce to make his point, and to paint an affectionate, accurate satire on the shortcomings of small-town life. The director’s delicately turned script is well served by colorful but credible performances, and by Michael Spiller’s stark but stylish camerawork. Read more.
Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
It should be said up front that “Trust,” aside from any deeper emotional or thematic underpinnings, is flat-out funny much of the time. And it’s often absurd and melancholy simultaneously, like when news of Maria’s situation literally kills her father, or when her hilarious stereotype of a jock boyfriend breaks up with her without pausing in his training regimen. There’s something sad and funny, too, about Maria’s older sister Peg (a young, superb Edie Falco), a hard-living divorcée who also lives at home, and whose mother considers her damaged enough to make a better partner for Matthew than Maria, the less-spoiled daughter. Hartley also has fun noodling with archetypes: One subplot has Maria searching for a businessman who will come off the Long Island commuter train wearing a trenchcoat and smoking a pipe; it turns out that description fits all businessmen. Read more.
Desson Howe, The Washington Post
In “Trust” the world has quietly foundered without anyone noticing. The characters in Hal Hartley’s absorbing suburban-angst nightmare seem hypnotized or demented. They’re the collective butt of some existential joke — but no one’s omniscient enough to enjoy the punch line. Occasionally they burst into rage or swing fists at each other. In one case, a licentious counter clerk pulls a woman into the back of the store, only to get a burning cigarette rammed into his eye. But these outbursts are melodramatic punctuation marks in an otherwise imperceptible sentence of doom. Life just goes on, and it’s equally as horrible in the office or on the street as it is at home. Read more.
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
The latest film from writer-director Hal Hartley (who debuted with last year’s “The Unbelievable Truth”), “Trust” is about a couple of emotionally damaged misfits who find solace in each other — but it’s really about how superior they are to the coarse suburban boobs around them. Maria (Adrienne Shelly) is a 17-year-old punk tootsie who finds herself pregnant and abandoned by her jock boyfriend. Matthew (Martin Donovan), who’s around 30 but still sponging off his father, is a quiet, mopey rebel without a cause who flits from one job to another (currently, he’s repairing computers) and carries a hand grenade around with him, a symbol of the Festering Violence In His Soul. The two get together, but they don’t quite have a love affair; they’re more like commiserating best friends in junior high. As a filmmaker, Hartley is a kind of sophomoric executioner: His gaze is so pitiless that his characters practically end up sliced and diced. When Maria first hears the news that her father has suffered a fatal heart attack, her mother, with zombie-like detachment, says, ”You killed him — get out of my house.” Matthew’s widowed dad is a sadist who makes him clean the bathroom over and over again. Hartley no doubt intends all of this as satire, but his us-against-them posturing is as glibly self-righteous as the anti-adult sentiments in a bad John Hughes film. Read more.