Ned Rifle (2014)

This is starting to be awkward and frankly embarrassing. It’s February already and I’m still trying to get through writing about the movies I saw in December. Well, better just get to it, since this is finally the last one of the bunch, thank God.

Not watching a movie trilogy in the right order is always a bit problematic, even when the other installments are self-contained enough for you to be able to enjoy them on their own merit, because there usually is still something, a slight sense of disconnect or sort of seemingly insignificant reference that signals that even when the ongoing story makes sense to you, you’re most likely still missing a tiny but significant piece of the puzzle. I got into the…. well, actually now that I think about it, I’m not sure if these movies even have an official title or a nickname attached to them as a trilogy. There probably is, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s just call it the ‘Fool trilogy’ here. After all, all three movies revolve heavily around the character of Henry Fool and his influence on people, so it feels appropriate. Anyway, I got into the ‘Fool trilogy’ by first watching the second movie, Fay Grim, not realizing it was in fact a sequel until afterwards, when reading up on the film on Wikipedia. I really loved Fay Grim and it is the prime reason for my blossoming infatuation with Parker Posey as an actor, which has now reached a point where I find myself wanting to revisit Scream 3 again, despite having little to no positive things to say about it going by my  own spotty recollection of seeing it all those years ago when it came out on VHS. In many ways Fay Grim was a spellbinding experience to me. It was interesting, witty, charming, and so well done that I think I stayed up until the wee hours of the night after finishing it, being entirely blown by how much I enjoyed the film and Parker Posey’s performance. Suffice to say, my expectations were quite high when I learned that the next and final film in the trilogy was coming out.

It’s not often that your self-generated hype matches what you actually get when you finally sit down and watch the film, but Ned Rifle more or less follows the experience of seeing Fray Grim down to the letter. I abso-frigging-lutely loved it. It’s fantastic, absolutely immersive story and so captivating to watch that it’s only after it is finally over that you even begin to realize how much well it manages at the same time be an entirely self-contained work while also working as the final culminating chapter in the long running (the first film came out in 1997) story of Henry Fool. It’s uncanny how organic everything and smooth ends up being in the film as it weaves and wraps up the story it has been slowly telling for the past 17 years, and how the film makes it seem so effortless. You laugh, you cry, the story entertains you every second of its running time with stunning performances, great dialog and very nicely shot cinematography. There’s something fascinating about Hartley’s dialog and the unconventional style that he uses to unravel his story to the cinema screen.

As a film Ned Rifle proves a bit difficult to judge on certain aspects, as I am missing a major piece of the puzzle by not knowing entirely what took place in the first film of the trilogy. As we start, we see Ned Rifle setting forth to begin his quest to find father, Henry Fool, so he can exact vengeance for the events that were depicted in the previous film and ultimately led to, from Ned’s perspective, destroying his childhood and the life of Ned’s mother, Fay Grim, who has spent the past few years in prison. As strange it is, and this is one the things I really enjoyed about this film, even when you feel Ned is entirely justified in his crusade, somehow Henry never actually feels like a truly a bad guy. Thematically, he’s clearly the villain of the piece, yet you never end up vilifying him as the audience. Not when we finally catch up to him and find him entirely nonchalant about everything he’s done, such as being partly responsible for the trouble that led to Faye being imprisoned, and not even when we learn Henry had relations with a thirteen year old girl and spent a considerable amount of time in jail for it. Rather than revile him, Henry just comes off as a lovable rogue, as if his electric charm, which the film tells us has made him simply irresistible to the countless women in the past, has now somehow placed us, the viewer, under his spell too.

If there’s one thing in particular that I really found fascinating about the film, it is the incredibly well written characters. They never seem to be developed that much on screen, per se, but there is nevertheless an unquestionable amount of je ne sais quoi depth to them as people. In a certain way it feels paradoxical. It’s almost like less means more the way they are presented. When everything feels entirely one-dimensional, like Ned is purely driven by his hunger for retribution, Henry seems to operate and live purely through his self-indulgent whims and the obsessed female groupie who stalks Simon, Faye’s brother, seems to be controlled by the true  meaning behind her obsession, you simultaneously have a sense there’s actually much more to it under the surface. Every character is like a coin, there’s two sides to them but you’re always just seeing the one that’s on top and visible. You can’t see the other side that’s down but you metaphysically can surmise it’s there.

To cap this off, the film is a fascinating small scale odyssey within its own little Henry Fool shaped micro cosmos. It’s a story about death, love, family and fate, with many interesting twists and turns along the way, but (and this is me heavily nitpicking) when I don’t quite have the full picture of the entire scope of the trilogy due to not yet having seen the first film, ultimately I failed to achieve true catharsis when the credits started rolling and the years long journey for these characters was finally over. I still love it, but I really need to see the first film, Henry Fool, to find a release valve to all the tumultuous feelings I have inside my chest. Lastly, before I sign off, I must make one final confession: I only now, while I writing this piece, realized that each installment in the trilogy was directly named after its main protagonist. Oh, what a fool I have been.

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