Oh boy, where to start with Ned Rifle, the conclusion to Hal Hartley’s epic indie film saga (at least I am assume it’s the conclusion; the ending just felt very final)? I guess I could start at the beginning, as I’m sure a good number of you are not even aware Ned Rifle is a sequel to anything – hell, some of the people at the screening weren’t aware.
It begins in 1997 with Henry Fool. James Urbaniak plays Simon Grim, a garbage man with little ambition and a ditzy sister named Fey (Parker Posey). A charismatic and intellectual drifter named Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) rents out the Grims’ cellar, and helps Simon discover his talent as a writer – also, he sleeps with Fey, producing a child named Ned (Liam Aiken).
Ten years later Hartley followed up with Fey Grim. Simon is in prison, Henry is on the run, and Fey is raising the now teenaged Ned alone. The CIA contacts Fey and asks her to help them locate a series of journals Henry kept. Fey complies, and is sent to Europe where she gets caught up in a complicated game of backstabbing and espionage.
And here we are at Ned Rifle. Ned, after growing up in a religious foster home, decides to track down his father and kill him. On his search for Henry, Ned meets a young woman named Susan (Aubrey Plaza) who knows an alarming amount of information about his family.
Can I just say, that I think it’s pretty cool that this series even exists? How many other independent film trilogies do you know of that add a new entry roughly every ten years? Okay, besides Richard Linklater’s Before films.
However, Hartley’s saga of the Grim family is not the most accessible of films. The plentiful dialogue at most times frankly doesn’t sound like film dialogue. It sounds like something more suited for a novel. Also, Hartley drops as many references to literary works, literary technique, and literary theory, as Quentin Tarantino does to films and television; so it can come off pretentious at times.However, you never get the sense that the film is taking itself too seriously, and at times seems to be mocking its own wordy characters. And when someone drops someone lines are dropped in every now and then, they leave more of an impact.
If you’re already on board with Hartley’s writing, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy this. Urbaniak, Posey, Aiken, and Ryan, are all back in fine form (I don’t think I could ever get board listening to Ryan talk), and Plaza fits in perfectly with this peculiar world. The people in the audience who hadn’t even seen Henry Fool or Fay Grim seemed to dig Ned Rifle, so that’s gotta count for something.