Opens Fri., March 12
Given that most films like The Yellow Handkerchief—that is, overly earnest indies swimming in Sundance cliches and boasting an overqualified cast of slumming stars seeking cred—tend to be indifferenty shot, exception has to be made for Udayan Prasad’s film.
It’s beautiful. And with good reason: It was lensed by ace cinematographer Chris Menges. A veteran whose fine work stretches back to Ken Loach movies from the ’60s—and recently, Notes on a Scandal and The Reader—he focuses most of his attention on the colors and mood of its location, namely post-Katrina Lousiana. Sensual without feeling traveloguey and set in the area’s under-filmed cul-de-sacs, Menges’ photography makes the swampy South seem almost as alluring as he did the Scottish coastal town in Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero.
Of course, it’s not tradition to spend the first chunk of a film review lavishing over the cinematography and thus, it shouldn't be a surprise that this film lacks in other areas.
Apart from some low-key work from William Hurt and Kristen Stewart, there’s little else memorable about this redemption saga-cum-road movie. Hurt plays Brett, a just-freed ex-con with a secret suffering from Movie Flashback Syndrome, in which brief glimpses of everyday objects (rain, a girl’s bare feet) trigger sudden cutaways to a torturous history we’ll learn more about later. En route back home, he shares a car with Martine (Stewart), a wayward teen with daddy issues, and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), an annoying redneck who provides a welcome jolt of energy into the terminally simmering proceedings.
Running concurrently is Brett’s backstory with an ex-gal pal (Maria Bello), which reveals—to borrow a phrase from another Hurt-Bello outing—a history of violence. Or does it? Scribe Erin Dignan, adapting a short story by Pete Hamill, intimates Brett is battling inner demons, but he chickens out with the big reveal, which turns out to be less lurid than assumed.
At this point what little air The Yellow Handkerchief had is let out, leaving Stewart and Redmayne with little to do but stare silently as Hurt monologues, paving the road for a destination fit for Lifetime. Luckily there are pretty pictures aplenty. Rarely before has the advice to “turn off you brain and just watch” been more sound.
Unforced but unfocused, Prodigal Sons cries for a third-party intervention, someone who can pound this material into something resembling a shape.
Though the producers of the Red Riding Trilogy were forced by budgetary limitations to only adapt three of the four North England-based crime novels by David Peace, that still leaves plenty of material.
A Prophet becomes fascinating when it veers away from your typical prison-life misery-porn and turns into a distorted Horatio Alger story. It’s a sick joke of an immigration tale of upward mobility.
Overly unusual protagonists and the requisite miserable Swedish locations aside, this is standard detective stuff.
Deep underneath this over-stuffed but relentlessly light farce lies fucked-up, near-Bergman-esque turmoil.