For Reel


Henry Fool (1997)
August 16, 2012, 7:46 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Hal Hartley

In size and ambition, Henry Fool positions itself as Hal Hartley’s opus – a modern folk tale that borrows a few literary archetypes (the burgeoning author and his mentor, the erudite drifter) and weaves them through a narrative that is concerned with, among other things, the state of art criticism, the growing conservatism in America, and the influence of the internet on modern culture. James Urbaniak, fittingly expressionless throughout much of the picture, plays the disaffected garbage man whose tutelage under the titular derelict embodied by Thomas Jay Ryan leads him to great success. If, in scope, Henry Fool is a far cry away from Hartley’s Trust, he again excels through one-on-one character interactions, a naturalistic visual palette, and a fascination with language and the possibilities of dialogue (one of the picture’s best scenes involves Ryan explaining the difference between there/their/they’re: “They’re the doughnut people.”) Like Martin Donovan, Ryan has impeccable instincts in dealing with Hartley’s blunt, highly-stylized dialogue – his Henry Fool is unspeakably pompous and foul, but Ryan brings so much charisma to the larger-than-life character that resisting his charms proves fruitless. The direction that the film takes in its latter half is not nearly as strong as the earliest moments between Urbaniak and Ryan, and Hartley fails in attempting to bring a sense of vulnerability to the outrageous Henry, but the occasional misfire is compensated for by the strength of the acting.