5 July 2012 | secondtake
Low budget with strong cast and a great simple story line, a bit awkward in the telling
Handsome Harry (2009)
The title is perfectly understated, and a bit misleading, whatever your first impressions. Harry is the main character, a man around 60 with memories of a brutal beating he and some fellow sailors gave a mate of theirs in the Viet Nam era. Long ago. The main thread of the movie follows him as he revisits each of the participants, including the man who was beaten.
With such a solid structure you are in some ways hooked. Each encounter has its own twists. And each time we see, through flashbacks, a sharpening picture of what really happened. It's a fascinating building of a story, even with some weakness here and there in the writing and acting.
And key to it all is a misguided homophobia, and what turns out to be a more complicated fear of being outed and a little self-loathing. Some of the characters Harry visits are finely tuned types, well acted. We see how everyone has changed, and how their sense of who they are, alone and to each other, has also changed.
Most of all we see Harry come to terms with his own demons on this. Jamey Sheridan plays him with studied restraint, and yet gives the man enough believable nuances to keep it honest. The biggest name in the cast is the first of Harry's encounters, Steve Buscemi, but if you are a fan of his (as you should be) be prepared that his role is really limited. And John Savage appears as one of the group, too. There are some strains in the other actors' parts either because of their ability to pull off a mostly talking movie or because the writing itself stumbles. In particular you'll see Harry barge into a classroom and interrupt the teacher and sort of take over the podium for a minute, and it's so out of character and unlikely it almost punctures the whole movie.
But hang in there. The final chapter or two is intense and written with poignancy. And it might surprise some viewers. A strong finish to a good, sometimes lugubrious, somewhat strained telling.