Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Film Review: Handsome Harry

Writer: Nicholas T. Proferes
Director: Bette Gordon
Producer: Jamin O’Brien, Jamey Sheridan, Eric Goldman and Marilyn Haft
Cast: Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, Mariann Mayberry, Aidan Quinn, John Savage, Campbell Scott , Titus Welliver, Karen Young.
Indie drama
1 hour 34 minutes

Mark Twain once said, “for the majority of us, the past is a regret, the future an experiment.” But sometimes the events of our past affect us in ways in which we aren't aware. With that in mind, Bette Gordon's latest film Handsome Harry takes a look at how an incident of violence haunts the five people who participated in the cruel act.

Harry Sweeney (Jamey Sheridan) is a well-liked electrician in his 50s, but is something of a loner. Having been divorced, he has an awkward and tense relationship with his adult son. When an old navy buddy from the Vietnam days Thomas Kelley (Steve Buscemi) calls him out of the blue to say that he's dying, he goes to visit him in hospital. Kelley tells him that decades later he's still heavily burdened by guilt from a vicious beating that they and several others gave to a shipmate Dave Kagan (Campbell Scott). Neither can remember the precise details as they were all very intoxicated, but each thinks they might have been the one to crush Kagan's hand, ending his potential future as a pianist.

After Kelley's death, the film's second act is a road trip to find the others and to learn what they know. It turns out that each of them has also been burdened in some way by the memory of the assault, which we learn was a gay-bashing incident. One overcompensates by becoming a hyper-masculine alpha male, another buries his thoughts in university academia, yet another finds God. Somewhat Citizen Kane-like, they each provide Harry with different pieces to the puzzle which is left to piece together on returning home.

The story's simplicity occasionally veers into heavy-handedness, yet Gordon maintains a sense of balance and allows the cast to do some very fine work. Sheridan is very impressive in carrying the picture, but the supporting cast also have moments where they get to shine. Aidan Quinn does some nice subtle work, while Campbell Scott not only does some fine acting, but plays his own music on the piano as well.

This film turns out to be very timely since the issue of gays in the military has been very much in the news recently, with the Senate Republicans in the U.S. blocking the lifting of a ban on gays, and with many celebrities supporting the "It Gets Better" campaign to counteract a spike in gay suicides. Handsome Harry brings its very humane message at the right time for us. Carrying such hatred costs us all.

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