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Ned Rifle

The most unlikely trilogy of the last twenty years, has finally wrapped up. It would be difficult to fully explain the impact that 1998’s “Henry Fool” had on me back in 1998, but it was a watershed moment for me. Director Hal Hartley was a hot indie director back then, and I think it’s safe to say that that particular feature, was his masterpiece. His fortunes dimmed soon after, as audience tastes and patience changed, and the multiplexes became clogged with superhero action blockbusters.

But when Hartley unleashed the sequel, “Fay Grim”, almost a decade later, I could barely contain my excitement and anticipation. Alas, it was a mixed bag, with limited appeal, despite some strong work from Parker Posey as the title character. But the magic was missing.

So, what a revelation it is, to find some of the groove back in 2015, with the release of the delightfully daffy “Ned Rifle”. It’s slight, and it’s very low-budget. But the entire cast of characters is back for round three, including Ms. Posey as Fay Grim, Liam Aiken as Ned Rifle, James Urbaniak as Simon Grim, and, of course, Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry Fool. The film is an unexpected delight.

Playing no small part in the movie’s success, is the wonder in the form of the unusual charms of Ms. Aubrey Plaza. Despite her off-beat quirkiness (or maybe because of it), Ms. Plaza slides smoothly into the mix of well established characters, with this first appearance of Susan–a Henry Fool obsessed loner, who begins a friendship with Henry’s son Ned, while Mr. Rifle’s mother Fay serves a life sentence in a federal penitentiary. Everything comes satisfyingly full circle here–and best of all, in a number of unexpected ways. I can’t wait to watch it again.

It’s a fitting finale to this art film trilogy, and a solid comeback for the largely absent-of-late, Hal Hartley. If you appreciate the varied careers of Edie Falco, Martin Donovan, and the late Adrienne Shelley–you should be aware, that Hartley brought them to you first. His screenplay for “Ned Rifle” harkens back to his older, ground-breaking work–but with a new level of grace, heightened by his established kookiness. “Ned Rifle” is too minor to attain the dizzying heights of “Henry Fool”‘s epic madness, but this epilogue recaptures a portion of that Hartley magic, that was missing from the uneven part two. Ahhh.

Grade:  B

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