Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Udayan Prasad's YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF boasts a terrific acting ensemble

A feel-good film that does its job quietly, rather sneakily, THE YELLOW HANDKER-
CHIEF also boasts a quartet of fine actors each working up to snuff (above it, actu-
ally). Directed by Udayan Prasad (My Son, the Fanatic) and adapted from a story by Pete Hamill by screenwriter Erin Dignam, this small, 96-minute movie combines past/
present and older/
younger generations into a nearly seam-
less fabric that left this reviewer in a puddle of happy tears (to steal the title of a film that opened just last week).

One reason Yellow Hankie works so well is the smart interweaving of flashback with present that Ms Dignam and Mr Prasad (shown at left) have contrived. We're constantly thrust back and forth in time but gracefully enough that we don't mind these near-
immediate transitions auguring the sense that something terrible has happened.  The film begins with the release from prison of a lonely, uncertain character, played with his usual skill but zero grandstanding by William Hurt (shown below, right, with Maria Bello).  Yet, that queasiness we feel about Hurt's character is almost immediately offset by some positives: another inmate grasps his hand warmly upon saying goodbye, telling him with restrained feeling, "We don't wanna see you back here."  One after another, these small good things pile up, and soon we're in Mr Hurt's corner and rooting for him.

The film is about, among other subjects, how strangers come together, and it's a lot more believable in its initial meetings and getting-to-know-you than are many films of this type (the road trip that's also a bit of a mystery/character study).  Even the small-town southern police force we see in this post-Katrina world, if not exactly "kind," at least does not exhibit the sort of over-the-top nasty behavior that we more often view.

The Yellow Handker-
chief is also about the subject of caring. "I wanted to make someone care about me," says Martine (the lovely Kristen Stewart, shown at right) by way of explaining why she seems to have hooked up with the Hurt character. What does it take to get others to care about us? The film asks this question implicitly, thank goodness.  One of the pleasures of the movie is how softly it treads.  People behave and interact; through this we learn all we need to know, as bit by bit the past becomes clear. And when, finally, an explanation is called for, we -- and the characters -- are ready for it.

In addition to Ms Stewart, who grows lovelier and whose acting strengthens with each film, and Ms Bello, who, though she occupies mostly the past, is such a strong actress that she makes that past quite present, the fourth wheel here is Eddie Redmayne (Elizabeth:The Golden Age,  The Good Shepherd, Savage Grace and Powder Blue), who brings his unique combination of sweetness, charm and quirk to the mix.  So tight is this little acting ensemble (there are no other characters of any note in the entire movie) and so beautifully do they play off each other, that, by the finale, they've fully earned the tears you'll shed.  For anyone who has wondered what it takes to make someone care about you, here's the chance to see how that works.

Distributed by Sanuel Goldwyn Films, The Yellow Handkerchief begins its national rollout this week with openings at multiple theaters in New York City and Los Angeles -- before expanding across the country.  You can find cities, theaters and dates here.


GHJ - said...

Jim - Saw the trailer for this and was digging it until the title popped up. Still, after your recommendation I will give it a shot. Love me some William Hurt.

James van Maanen, said...

Hurt is as good as I've seen him in years here, and the movie's coming to Laguna Niguel and La Jolla, though I didn't see San Diego on the chart....

GHJ - said...

La Jolla is my neck of the woods, so I will look forward to its arrival.