Here are the FIRST reviews of 'The Yellow Handkerchief'!!!!!
(+ a new clip of the movie at the bottom of the post in The Hollywood Reporter video review)
Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)
•• Screendaily, Patrick Z McGavin: The American debut of Udayan Prasad (My Son the Fanatic), The Yellow Handkerchief is a visually confident, emotionally bruising road movie about a trinity of lost souls haunted by their past and break free of their restricted lives. The writing never quite matches the extraordinary imagery of Chris Menges. Fortunately, the top-notch cast imbues the work with a precision and sharpness that helps elide over the rough or inchoate ideas.
Produced by Arthur Cohn (Central Station), the movie was unveiled in the Premiere section at Sundance. The movie's rhythms are quiet and observant, and it is a work to be savoured and thought over rather than gulped. An enterprising US distributor should tap into the niche, highly discerning and adult audience.
Furthermore the presence of William Hurt and Maria Bello, combined with the excellent young actors Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne, should pay larger dividends in DVD and ancillaries, particularly urban US centres, the UK and other leading English-speaking markets.
Expanding on a story by American journalist Pete Hamil, screenwriter Erin Dignam intertwines two narratives, a contemporary story set in a Louisiana backwater town that finds thee wildly different people, craggy loner Brett (Hurt), local beauty Martine (Stewart) and odd, manic stranger Gordy (Redmayne) yoked together.
Travelling in Gordy's convertible, they pass through an evocative Southern landscape of open dirt roads and expansive shorelines. The other story is more fragmentary and elusive, charting through flashbacks and Brett's harsh and unsettled memories, his relationship with his wife, May (Bello).
The movie's movement is both physical and psychological, suggesting the different ways the past is superimposed over the present. Unfortunately, the script works too hard to find symmetries between the two parts that denies a more organic and free form flow.
The Yellow Handkerchief is far more effective visually. A two-time Oscar-winner, Menges made his reputation with the low-budget works of Ken Loach. He's very good at creating mood, tempo and conflict through the faces, body gestures and rhythms of his actors.
The early imagery of confinement, like the three caught in the interior of a car or trapped in a cramped motel room, is sharply played off the freedom and uncertainty of the road. A moment between Hurt and Bello in the bayou echoes Menges' work on Andrei Konchalovsky's 1987 Shy People.
Dignam also links her characters to Southern literature. Gordy is clearly a literary descendant of Benjy, the damaged man-child of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.
'He's young for his age,' Brett says to Martine. He's jittery and nervous and desperate to please Martine. Likewise, she evokes Caddy from the same novel, a gorgeous and rebellious young woman both frightened by and hyper aware of her nascent sexuality.
Following a violent incident, Brett reveals to his young companions that he has just emerged from a six-year prison sentence for manslaughter. In sketching out their alternately tender and unsettling relationship involving a family tragedy, Bello's May becomes a far more distinctive and emotionally detailed character.
Of late, Hurt has done excellent work as a character actor and uncovered a freedom and generosity of expression in works like The History of Violence and Mr Brooks.
He creates a highly convincing physical character, a man beaten down, trapped by fury and anger. At the same time, his work is quiet and recessive, marked only by bursts of violence that underline how volatile or unhinged he is capable of becoming.
Off the heels of her excellent work in Into the Wild , Stewart continues to impress. She has a dancer's lithe, taut body, and she uses it expressively in limning a part of tenderness, regret and hopefulness. She shows a nervy tension in front of the camera, a quickness of feeling and action that serves the part exceptionally well.
The English-born Redmayne (The Good Shepard) has the most difficult part, both showy and somewhat unfocused in the characterization, particularly since his part is the hardest one to get a fix on. The movie's title is not apparent until the closing moments, an act of reconciliation that that ends on a moment of rapture and release.
•• Moviefone, Erik Davis: I'm starting to dislike films that sell themselves with the tagline: "Love is where you least expect it." Isn't it about time we retire that line? Yellow Handkerchief arrives as yet another indie road flick featuring characters very different from one another on the outside, but similar on the inside. It's pretty to watch (thanks to great camerawork from Chris Menges), but the film never really soars above "That was a nice moment," and into must-see territory. However, superb performances from the four leads lend Handkerchief enough charm to leave those watching with a smile ... and an odd desire to visit Louisiana.
William Hurt stars as an ex-con named Brett, who, after six years in prison, stumbles back out into the world with a sense of purpose. Soon after his release, Brett winds up hitching a ride with Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a kind-of-slow outcast heading down to New Orleans. Joining the men, after watching last night's fling hook up with another girl, is Martine (Kristen Stewart) -- a fidgety gal with massive father figure issues. Because of her sour relationship with Pops, Martine desperately attempts to latch onto men who show the slightest interest, and when Gordy fires up a conversation with her, it's enough for Martine to forget about the last guy and jump into a convertible with the next one. Thus, our three strangers head out for a ride to escape their problems -- and jaded pasts -- but ultimately wind up banding together to confront the purple elephant in the corner and wash away their damaged souls.
While Gordy and Martine are fascinating (yet familiar) characters to watch, the real story centers on Brett. Why was he in prison? What is he running from? Who is he running from? Through well-shot and well-placed flashbacks, we learn Brett was romantically involved with a woman (Maria Bello) who may or may not have something to do with his prison time. Needless to say, by the time the flashbacks work up to the present, we're presented with one pretty good reveal and an ending that's a tad too forced, but warm and welcoming at the same time.
Hurt is excellent in his role, and he's what really gives this film a good go at "above mediocre." His ex-con is one that's bitter, quiet and respectful -- but you wouldn't want to cross him in any way, shape or form. He takes the kids under his wing, acting as the father figure neither has -- while they take the place of the children Brett wanted, but didn't get. And this entire story plays out while the three meander through Louisiana, though we never know where they are in relation to where they started, nor do we know where they're heading. A clear and distinct target -- something to help out those of us not familiar with Louisiana -- might have helped reign in the story's loose ends a bit. Additionally, not enough time is spent on fleshing out Martine and Gordy, the latter of which really deserves his own film (he reminded me of a Forest Gump-type kid who finds himself in one adventure after the next).
Yellow Handkerchief marks director Udayan Prasad's first American film, and he definitely proves enough skill to continue churning out the English-language fare. Then again, he's given some tremendous help in Menges' camerawork. From the lush landscapes of Louisiana to post-Katrina disaster to the urban jungle, the locations change as our characters grow. The film would've benefited from a leaner script and more concrete goals, and as it stands, Yellow Handkerchief is just another quiet character piece that may make its way to theaters in limited release, but won't cause any waves.
•• Film School Rejects, Neil Miller: Rating B
I am a big proponent of the fact that sometimes (in fact, more often than not) you have to just take a movie for what it is and allow yourself to be entertained. Sometimes, even though a movie might want to say something deeper or mean something more, it ends up serving only that simple purpose. That is the case with The Yellow Handkerchief, another interesting, yet indescribable film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
It tells the story of Martine (Kristen Stewart), a 15 year old girl in Lousiana who befriends Brett (William Hurt), a recently released convict and an emotionally unbalanced and pubescent young man named Gordy (Freddie Redmayne). Together, they travel through the countryside of Louisiana down to a post-Katrina New Orleans. The road trip, as we have seen so many times, serves as a metaphor for the life journey’s of our three main characters.
As the film moves along, quite slowly I might add, we learn more and more about why Brett was in prison, and that it had something to do with his wife May (Maria Bello). The script, penned by Erin Dignam, is a well articulated journey through the lives of four quintessential losers and how their stories evolve together to become a tale of dealing with failure, disappointment and social awkwardness.
While the script was great, the translation to film is a bit dry for my taste. Sure, it kept my attention, as I too wanted to know why Brett was in prison for so long and I too wanted to know why all three of these people were running away from their lives, it just took too long to develop. Had it not been for some illuminating performances from a wonderful cast, I would not have enjoyed this film.
But the performances were illuminating and the film turned out to be enjoyable, despite itself. Kristen Stewart gives one of the better performances that we’ve seen from her. William Hurt also delivers a solid performance, as he always does. Eddie Redmayne though, is certainly the standout of the film. His character goes from spastic to quirky and back again, but never ceases to be endearing as well. In the end, he saves this film from being a real bore.
And that is not to say that the film is not at least visually interesting. In fact, it is at times a very sad portrait of the disaster-torn region of southern Louisiana. Give cinematographer Chris Menges credit for that. Like so many films, while the whole of it did not blow me away, there were plenty of little moments and delightful performances to make it an enjoyable experience. As well, it was a film that accomplished what it was going for. That is, if its goal was to leave no dry eyes in the house as the credits rolled.
•• Summit Pacific: Rating 3/4
I’m always a little apprehensive about ex-con redemption films. They are generally predictable, and the emotional puppeteering is all too easy and familiar. And I must acknowledge that in The Yellow Handkerchief, there is more than a little of all that. But I don’t think that’s at the core of the movie. Rather, this is a story about three individuals, all lost and lonely, led by fate into a beat-up convertible, and finding themselves unexpectedly on a little road trip in post-Katrina Louisiana bayou country.
Award-winning German producer Arthur Cohn put together this project, and Indian director Udayan Prasad made some great casting calls. William Hurt is at the center as Brett, a just-released ex-con battling his demons (which are gradually revealed throughout the movie) and tenuously reentering the outside world. It’s a role that comes naturally to Hurt, more like his classics The Big Chill, The Doctor and The Accidental Tourist than his arresting departure in The History of Violence. Maria Bello shows up mostly in flashbacks, as the love of his pre-prison life. Eddie Redmayne (Gordy) and Kristen Stewart (Matine) steal the show as the youngsters who meet in a store, and find themselves moments later asking Brett to make them an unlikely threesome.
Prasad does a great job of sharing with the audience the unadorned emotions at play as these three feel each other out, and gradually get comfortable with each other. Of course there is tension, as Brett is older, obviously hardened, and something of mystery, and even more so when they find out he is an ex-con. But also anger, fear and disgust, before the softening. The strengths and weaknesses of each character are slowly exposed as their journey leads them in search of acceptance, hope and love. And talented cinematographer Chris Berges brings an eerie sadness to a Louisiana bayou country not nearly recovered from the ravages of Katrina.
The Yellow Handkerchief may move too slowly for broad public acceptance. But the pacing was even and the story never lagged. One might accuse the ending of being a little hackneyed (and one would be right) but that doesn’t dull the effect of a movie that leaves you smiling and optimistic about life.
Sundance Moment: Prasad, Cohn, Hurt, Bello, Redmayne and Stewart were all at the premiere. Best line was from Cohn, who said some people told him this was a “little movie.” “There are no little movies or big movies,” he repeated twice. Sundance philosophy in a nutshell.
•• Variety, Peter Debruge: In “The Yellow Handerchief,” director Udayan Prasad transposes an urban myth, first published in 1971 by Pete Hamill, to post-Katrina Louisiana, crafting a thoughtful, niche-oriented portrait of four off-the-beaten-path characters trying to find their way. As Hamill originally tells it, an ex-con hitches a ride with a group of teenagers to see the wife he left on the outside. Unsure of his standing after the long prison sentence, he has instructed her via postcard to hang a yellow handkerchief outside the house if she’ll have him back. He comes home to find 20, 30, maybe hundreds awaiting him. Better pack your hankies.
Actually, what sounds like just another weepy Reader’s Digest story (no surprise: the magazine actually reprinted Hamill’s article in 1972) takes on real gravitas in Prasad’s hands, fleshed out by its four-person cast. As Brett, the forlorn ex-con, William Hurt uses his eyes to project the soul his soft-spoken character hides from the world. One of the movie’s running themes suggests that faces often say more about a person than words, and apart from a few on-the-nose lines of dialogue, that philosophy puts the performances front and center.
Brett hitches a ride with two complete strangers — Martine (Kristen Stewart), a heartbroken 15-year-old firefly of a girl flaunting her sexuality in hopes that someone will want her, and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), an insecure young man convinced of his own abnormality — sensing in them a tentative dance of attraction.
Though he acts as their chaperone, whispering character-building words of encouragement on cue, Brett needs their company, too. Nearly anything he sees (a torrential rainstorm, a broken windowpane) triggers a textural flashback to May (Maria Bello), the fragile soul he left waiting for him. As the film progresses, he opens up to the kids, telling them his story, and the balance between past and present-day scenes shifts, revealing the reason for his incarceration (not nearly as heinous as we might imagine).
In making the story her own, screenwriter Erin Dignam shifts the attention from plot-forwarding actions to interactions, constructing poignant moments between the different characters. These life travelers aren’t necessarily eloquent, but they feel genuinely lived-in, frequently acting on impulse and barely-sublimated desire.
Though both Hurt and Stewart appeared in “Into the Wild” last year, here they’re given sufficient screentime to explore their enigmatic characters. And fresh face Redmayne embodies his redneck persona so convincingly, you’d never suspect the young Brit got his start playing Shakespeare.
Gator sightings and other glimpses of swamp life can’t be avoided in a pic like this, though Chris Menges’ evocative lensing captures the atmosphere without resorting to Terrence Malick-like environmental cutaways. Prasad takes his time with the material, capturing both the characters and their surroundings with real depth.
•• Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas: Pete Hamill's Reader's Digest story "The Yellow Handkerchief" inspired Yôji Yamada's appealing 1977 film of the same name, and now it has become the basis for a new movie, also of the same name but not really a remake.
Screenplay writer Erin Dignam and director Udayan Prasad have taken the plot outline of the Yamada film and created original characters in a rural post-Katrina Louisiana, captured in evocative images by master cinematographer Chris Menges.
This "Yellow Handkerchief" is a gentle, low-key road movie, centering on the eternal need to love and to trust, suffused in the humanist spirit that has won its veteran producer, Arthur Cohn, three Oscars.
"The Yellow Handkerchief" is adept at making a viewer care what happens to these very likable people.
•• Spirituality Practice, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat: The top-drawer performances by William Hurt, Maria Bello, Kristen Stewart, and Eddie Redmayne are what make this small film stand out from other recent road movies.
•• ELLE, Karen Durbin: Richly satisfying performances from Kristen Stewart, William Hurt, and newcomer Tahar Rahim are reasons to see two fine films.
Look past the elephant stampede to next month's Oscars and you just might see Udayan Prasad's savory indie The Yellow Handkerchief and Jacques Audiard's high-caliber foreign film A Prophet. The first is a road movie, the second a crime drama, and they don't just enrich their genres but refresh them.
Set in post-Katrina Louisiana, The Yellow Handkerchief is built around a love story, its brief, hopeful rise and dreadful collapse revealed in pungent flashbacks. These are the unbidden memories of William Hurt's Brett, who, fresh out of prison and at seeming loose ends, hitches a ride south with a pair of unhappy teens, the self-pitying motormouth Gordy (English actor Eddie Redmayne), whose sole charm is his car, and Martine (Kristen Stewart), dumped by the boy she likes and her truck driver dad, who has gone on vacation with his girlfriend and left his 15-year-old daughter to fend for herself.
There's an air of bruised fragility about this trio and also about May (Maria Bello), the gun-shy woman who threw Brett off her houseboat and out of her life. There's also a whiff of sentimental cliché, but time and again it's dispelled by Chris Menges' acutely intelligent cinematography and the quality of the performances. Stewart does the kind of layered work that has made her one of the best young actors around. Martine is necessarily self-sufficient, but her anger and sadness are palpable, and she looks weary—rejection can do that to a girl. You're relieved when she perks up and starts nudging Redmayne's whiny Southern boy to do the same. But it's the seasoned players who really get your pulse racing. Bello makes May a terse, independent woman who never lets her loneliness reach her eyes, but it's there in the defensive set of her shoulders and the guarded hope when Brett comes into her life. As for Hurt, Prasad's best move is giving him the room to be great. Hurt ruled the '80s in such landmark movies as Body Heat, The Big Chill, and Broadcast News. More recently, he created an indelible moment with the stolid suburban father in Into the Wild when, walking up the road to his house after learning of his son's death, he suddenly sinks to the tarmac, his loss too heavy to bear. In The Yellow Handkerchief, Hurt deftly takes the measure of a complicated man with Brett's scary flashes of off-the-leash violence, his unfailing patience with the wounded teens, and the heart-stabbing vulnerability that suffuses his face when we least expect it. This is a beautiful performance, not least because Hurt keeps it plain.
•• The New York Post, Lou Lumenick: Beautifully acted by a cast including William Hurt and a pre-stardom Kristen Stewart — as well as gorgeously photographed — “The Yellow Handkerchief” is a captivating film loosely based on a Pete Hamill column that appeared in this newspaper in 1971.
Hurt gives arguably his best performance since the Oscar-winning “Kiss of the Spider Woman” as Brett, an ex-convict who makes his way across post-Katrina Louisiana after spending six years in the penitentiary for manslaughter.
A storm forces Brett to share a convertible and sleeping quarters with Martine (Stewart) and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), two teenagers he encounters during a ferry crossing. The awkward Gordy is eager to know flirtatious Martine much better, but the moody aspiring dancer is wary of her loquacious suitor because of a recent romantic experience.
She’d much rather hear about Brett’s life — secrets that the balding blue-collar worker slowly gives up as the trio rides south towards New Orleans. As seen in a series of flashbacks, they revolve around his tumultuous relationship with May (Maria Bello), which ended in anger and violence.
Brett is hoping May will still have him — and the film’s title refers to a sign he asks for in a letter.
First, he imparts his hard-won wisdom on his young companions — who, it turns out, have a thing or two to teach the middle-aged ex-convict.
Stories about people yearning for second chances in life have a way of turning schmaltzy in American movies. In other hands, this movie could very easily have been the cinematic equivalent of the old Tony Orlando song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.”
But Erin Dignam’s episodic script, brimming with humor and honest emotion — and the pitch-perfect direction of Udayan Prasad (“My Son the Fantatic”) thankfully avoids manipulating the audience at every turn.
Hurt goes out of his way to not overtly court our sympathy in a very subtle performance. We see his hurt largely through the eyes of his traveling companions. Stewart, who made this film when she was 15 — before “Twilight” — shows star presence in a very tricky part that requires her to demonstrate her character’s unhappiness at home in a non-clichéd manner.
The cocky but vulnerable Gordy is well played by Redmayne, a charismatic British actor best known for his portrayal of a murderous socialite in “Savage Grace.” Bello, who appeared with Hurt in “A History of Violence” is sexy and volatile in a relatively small but crucial role of Brett’s love.
Louisiana — as photographed by one of the greatest living cinematographers, Chris Menges (“The Killing Fields”) — is also a crucial character in the movie, which slowly unfolds on bayous and in the abandoned homes and businesses where the travelers take refuge.
Hamill’s original story, in fact, took place on a bus to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and it previously inspired a 1977 Japanese movie that carried same title in English. “The Yellow Handkerchief” tells a timeless fable, and tells it extremely well.
•• ATN Zone: With the opening frame of celluloid, I was immediately drawn to THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF thanks to the elegant beauty of the cinematography before me. Spellbinding, I visually plunged headfirst into the willows, wetlands and marshes of the deep South, the crystalline clarity of the world after the raging violence of a heat induced thunderstorm, and the intricately interwoven character study and story of love, loss, redemption and second chances that parallel nature’s own mysteries and wonders. On learning the visual imagery capturing my attention was the work of cinematographer Chris Menges, I was not surprised at the hypnotic cinematographic appeal as Menges is one of the finest technical artisans in the business. Adding to this was the fact that THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF is based on a beautiful short story by the acclaimed Pete Hamill and stars William Hurt and Maria Bello.
Brett Hanson has spent the last six years hidden away deep in the heart of Louisiana in a maximum security prison, serving out his sentence for manslaughter. During his imprisonment a lot has changed in the world, most notably, Hurricane Katrina, causing physical destruction that seems to mimic Hanson’s own emotional minefield. Impoverished throughout his life, Hanson was always the one left behind or forgotten. Uneducated, he made his way into adulthood working on oil rigs before ultimately finding love with a woman named May. Closed off from the world and the life and love he left behind, on his release from prison, he is like a fish out of water, trying to find his way back home - if he even has a home. Alone with his thoughts and inner demons, Brett soon meets up with Martine and Gordy. 15 year old Martine, a lost soul herself, is running away from an unhappy home life. Coming into her own and realizing the power of her teenaged sexuality, she is looking for love in all the wrong places. Stumbling onto Gordy, Martine sees him as her escape to the unknown. And Gordy, a handsome young drifter with a bright shiny car who questions his own worth as a human being, is himself searching for acceptance and love, often through the lens of a disposable camera.
Crossing paths, Brett soon finds himself hooked up with these two youngsters. Feeling both lost and his own loss, Brett starts to find a renewed sense of self-worth as he falls into the role of father figure, friend and confidante providing encouragement and guidance to Martine and Gordy. In what becomes a truly co-dependent triumvirate, Brett begins to deal with the realities of his past and the haunting memories of his beloved May with whom he hopes to reunite now that he is a free man. Spurred on by the very forces of nature itself, this once solitary and lonely man, comes ever closer to a second chance at happiness as in an almost cathartic move, he trepidatiously opens up to Martine and Gordy, sharing his hope for a future with May, a hope that will only be answered by the sight of a yellow handkerchief hanging outside the front door of the place he once called home.
William Hurt is magnificent as Brett Hanson. Working out and bulking up in order to physically transform into Hanson, Hurt is meticulous and methodical in his performance. Mandating emotional authenticity for the role, Hurt extensively researched the character, including spending ten days on the grounds of the maximum security prison in Angola, Louisiana talking to inmates and ex-convicts, as well as spending one night in maximum security incarceration. A departure from his usual upper middle class roles, Hurt brings an unspoken power to the poor downtrodden Hanson that is emotionally uplifting to watch.
Reuniting with Hurt is my fellow Norristownian, Maria Bello. Anyone familiar with my reviews knows of my respect for Bello and her gifted performances (just check her out in “Downloading Nancy”) and here as May, she is no different. Exuding her trademark tacit strength, Bello appears primarily through flashbacks, establishing the much needed backstory to support the emotional gravitas of Hurt’s performance as Hanson. Emotionally textured, Bello’s facial expressiveness is richly compelling and enhanced by Menges’ cinematography.
Rounding out the ensemble are Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne. As Martine, this is by far the strongest and most intriguing performance we have seen from Stewart in a long time. Recommended to producer Arthur Cohn by Jodie Foster, Stewart gives life to Martine balancing the uncertain naivete of a child against the angst of a pubescent teen. And Eddie Redmayne! Cambridge educated and British, Redmayne is probably the last person one would think of as Gordy, but in he comes, speaking with a Lousiana accent and acting all Southern-poor, with such believability one would have thought he was born and bred in the bayou. The chemistry between Stewart and Redmayne is also interesting to watch set against the ever changing tides of nature.
Written by Erin Dignam based on the 1971 short story by Pete Hamill, the script stays relative true in theory to the elements of Hamill’s work, yet Dignam creates as a very lyric narrative style that is celebrated through the strength of Chris Menges stunning imagery. The dynamic amongst the characters of Hanson, Martine and Gordy is fluid and interactive. A common thread is a permeating sadness that slowly gives way to hope. Believing that less is more, Dignam retains the simplicity of the story, letting the performances and visuals propel the film.
Directed by Udayan Pasad who brought us the fun-filled “Opa!” with Matthew Modine , the story dramatically unfolds through Hanson’s memories, creating a heartwrenching tension, but always revealing just little bits and pieces of the characters at a time, causing emotional mystery. Working hand in hand with cinematographer Menges, the two create a sense of time and space through variant lenses and lighting. Key to the progression of the story is the poetry of Louisiana itself (43 different locations) and particularly, the weather, which was interwoven and paralleled with each character’s emotions creating unspoken mood. Little details, like the use of red and yellow, also add elements to the story structure and character definition.
Be they red, white, blue, pink or green, make sure you bring plenty of your own handkerchiefs to THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF, a story of love, loss, life and second chances.
•• Willamette Week, Alistair Rockoff: I know, I know. That title. It’s a terrible title for what is probably the best American film of the year so far. It sounds like more Southern comfort from the pen of Nicholas Sparks, and it is about young love and old love in the bayou country. But it should not be confused with Sparks’ garbage The Last Song, also opening this week. A hopeful answer to post-Katrina despair, The Yellow Handkerchief may well make you cry for joy.
The setup is the classic 1970s road trip. A silvering William Hurt plays Brett. He is released from prison in Louisiana and grasps a cold beer with desperate relief. He hitches a ride down south with a couple of bright-eyed kids, who are none the wiser. Kristen Stewart of the Twilight movies is Martine, a 15-year-old runaway frustrated by wimpy boys. Her latest wimp is Eddie Redmayne’s Gordy, freckly and obsessed with himself. To every girl he sees, he boasts about his Native American upbringing. As the towering Brett and nubile Martine climb into Gordy’s convertible, we hope for drama but fear the worst. The older man tells the girl, “You can’t always trust what you see.” And that lack of trust is precisely what screenwriter Erin Dignam explores.
The movie is not about bad people exploiting good people, but about good people provoking each other’s emotional problems, and working through them. As the characters take refuge in a single motel room, director Udayan Prasad frames their dynamic with wonderful simplicity. Martine is infatuated with the aging Brett, while Gordy fears him: he’s a substitute father. But Brett’s mind is elsewhere, tormented by memories of a woman he once loved, played by Maria Bello. These brief flashbacks are warm and sexual, and leave Brett feeling hopelessly alone. Eventually, he will have to explain himself.
The actor who plays him needs little explanation. William Hurt looks exhausted by romantic yearning and wounded pride. Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne convey the same kind of loneliness, and watching that loneliness lift is the best kind of therapy.
I was surprised to learn The Yellow Handkerchief is based on the same story that inspired the yellow ribbon brandished today by Gulf War supporters and the Suicide Prevention Program. There was also that awful song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” It’s like the movie was begging to end up preachy or sentimental. Thanks to human feeling, it ended up great.
•• Newcity Film: “The Yellow Handkerchief” is a captivating character study of unlikely provenance, capturing eminently watchable loners in ravishing landscapes. Here’s the pile-on behind the picture: The story began as a newspaper column from the 1970s by Pete Hamill, which was the basis for the Tony Orlando and Dawn song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.” Producer Arthur Cohn is 83, the only winner of five Oscars in that role, including for “Four Days in September,” “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Black and White in Color” and “Harlan County.” The glorious cinematography is by one of the world’s best cameramen, Chris Menges (“Local Hero,” “The Mission,” “Notes on a Scandal”); the editing is by Christopher Tellefsen (“Gummo,” “Capote”). The director, Udayan Prasad, is best known for 1997’s “My Son The Fanatic.” “The Yellow Handkerchief,” the film, written by Erin Dignam, is set in post-Katrina Louisiana, with recently released ex-con Brett (a mustachioed William Hurt) winding up in the company of two unschooled teenagers in a convertible, 15-year-old Martine and Gordy (Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne). Taciturn yet menacing, precise just shy of precious, Hurt’s performance is one of his richest. But Prasad’s handling of the slim, familiar story allows the characters space to interact, to breathe, and it’s a gratifying choice. He honors the serious and the sentimental alike. It makes for a lovely fable. The able score is by Eef Barzelay, of Clem Snide, and Jack Livesay (“Sherrybaby”). With Maria Bello.
•• Roger Ebert: Rating 3/4
The action in "The Yellow Handkerchief" takes place within the characters, who don't much talk about it, so the faces of the actors replace dialogue. That's more interesting than movies that lay it all out. This is the story of three insecure drifters who improbably find themselves sharing a big convertible and driving to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina.
The car's driver is a painfully insecure teenager named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), who doubts most of what he does and seems to apologize just by standing there. At a rural convenience store, he encounters Martine (Kristen Stewart), running away from her life. He says he's driving to New Orleans. No reason. She decides to come along. No reason. They meet a quiet, reserved man named Brett (William Hurt), and she thinks he should come along. No particular reason.
We now have the makings of a classic road picture. Three outsiders, a fabled destination, Louisiana back roads and a big old convertible. It must be old because modern cars have no style; three strangers can't go On the Road in a Corolla. It must be a convertible because it makes it easier to light and see the characters and the landscape they pass through. They must be back roads because what kind of a movie is it when they drive at a steady 70 on the interstate?
The formula is obvious, but the story, curiously, turns out to be based on fact. It began as journalism by Pete Hamill, published in the early 1970s. In the movie's rendition, Brett fell in love with a woman named May (Maria Bello), then spent six years in prison for manslaughter charges, although his guilt is left in doubt. Martine slowly coaxes his story out of the secretive man.
You don't need an original story for a movie. You need original characters and living dialogue. "The Yellow Handkerchief," written by Erin Dignam, directed by Udayan Prasad, has those, and evocative performances. William Hurt occupies the silent center of the film. In many movies we interpret his reticence as masking intelligence. Here we realize it's a blank slate, and could be masking anything. Although his situation is an open temptation for an actor to signal his emotions, Hurt knows that the best movie emotions are intuited by the audience, not read from emotional billboards.
Stewart is, quite simply, a wonderful actress. I must not hold the "Twilight" movies against her. She played the idiotic fall-girl written for her, as well as that silly girl could be played, and now that "Twilight: New Moon" has passed the $300 million mark, she has her choice of screenplays for her next three films, as long as one of them is "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse." In recent film after film, she shows a sure hand and an intrinsic power. I last saw her in "Welcome to the Rileys," where she played a runaway working as a hooker in New Orleans. In both films she had many scenes with experienced older actors (Hurt, James Gandolfini). In both she was rock solid. Playing insecure and neurotic, yes, but rock solid.
The story of Redmayne, who plays Gordy, is unexpected. He fits effortlessly into the role of the scrawny, uncertain 15-year-old Louisiana kid. Yet I learn he is 27, a Brit who went to Eton, a veteran of Shakespeare and Edward Albee. Michael Caine explained to me long ago why it's easier for British actors to do American accents than the other way around. Whatever. You can't find a crack in his performance here.
These three embark on a road odyssey that feels like it takes longer than it might in real life. Their secrets are very slowly confided. They go through emotional relationships expected and not expected. They learn lessons about themselves, which is required in such films, but are so slowly and convincingly arrived at here that we forgive them. There is rarely a film where the characters are exactly the same at the end as they were at the beginning. (Note: Being triumphant is not a character change.)
Prasad made a wonderful British film in 1997, "My Son the Fanatic." I've seen none of his work since. Now comes this redneck slice of life. Since the characters are so far from the lives of the actors and the director, this is a creation of the imagination. As it must be. The ending is a shade melodramatic, but what the heck. In for one yellow handkerchief, in for a hundred.
- Roger Ebert's The best art films of 2010 list: This is the last of my lists of the best films of 2010, and the hardest to name. Call it the Best Art Films. I can't precisely define an Art Film, but I knew I was seeing one when I saw these. I could also call them Adult Films, if that term hadn't been devalued by the porn industry. These are films based on the close observation of behavior. They are not mechanical constructions of infinitesimal thrills. They depend on intelligence and empathy to be appreciated.
They also require acting of a precision not necessary in many mass entertainments. They require directors with a clear idea of complex purposes. They require subtleties of lighting and sound that create a self-contained world. Most of all, they require sympathy. The directors care for their characters, and ask us to see them as individuals, not genre emblems. That requires us to see ourselves as individual viewers, not "audience members." That can be an intimate experience. I found it in these titles, which for one reason or another weren't on my earlier lists. Maybe next year I'll just come up with one alphabetical list of all the year's best films, and call it "The Best Films of 2011, A to Z."
"The Yellow Handkerchief." This is the story of three insecure drifters who find themselves sharing a big convertible and driving to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina. The car's driver is a teenager named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), who doubts most of what he does and seems to apologize just by standing there. At a rural convenience store, he encounters Martine (Kristen Stewart), running away from her life. He says he's driving to New Orleans. No reason. She decides to come along. No reason. They meet a quiet, reserved man named Brett (William Hurt), and she thinks he should come along. No particular reason.
We now have the makings of a classic road picture. Three outsiders, a fabled destination, Louisiana back roads and a big old convertible. William Hurt occupies the silent center of the film. In many movies we interpret his reticence as masking intelligence. Here we realize it's a blank slate, and could be masking anything. Kristen Stewart is a wonderful actress. I must not hold the "Twilight" movies against her. In recent film after film, she shows a sure hand and an intrinsic power. I last saw her in "Welcome to the Rileys," where she played a runaway working as a hooker in New Orleans. In both films she had many scenes with experienced older actors (Hurt, James Gandolfini). In both she was rock solid. The story of Redmayne, who plays Gordy, is unexpected. He fits effortlessly into the role of the scrawny, uncertain 15-year-old Louisiana kid. Yet I learn he is 27, a Brit who went to Eton, a veteran of Shakespeare and Edward Albee.
During their odyssey their secrets are slowly confided. They learn lessons about themselves, which is required in such films, but are so slowly and convincingly arrived at here that we forgive them. Prasad made a wonderful British film in 1997, "My Son the Fanatic." I've seen none of his work since. Now comes this redneck slice of life. Since the characters are so far from the lives of the actors and the director, this is a creation of the imagination. As it must be. The ending is a shade melodramatic, but what the heck. In for one yellow handkerchief, in for a hundred.
•• Philly, Steven Rea: A road movie, a tale of second chances, and an opportunity for William Hurt and Kristen Stewart to try out their Southern drawls, The Yellow Handkerchief is a surprisingly moving drama - a throwback to the small, character-driven indies of yesteryear. And since the characters are driving - from a two-bit Louisiana bayou town to New Orleans - character-driven seems particularly apt.
Adapted from a Pete Hamill short story and directed by Udayan Prasad (My Son the Fanatic), The Yellow Handkerchief finds Hurt working against type: a blue-collar oil rigger by the name of Brett Hanson, just released from jail, where he did time for a crime that won't be revealed until later on, in a series of flashbacks.
Looking paunchy and poor, and looking for a ride, he hooks up with Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a nutty, animated kid with an old blue convertible, and with Martine (Stewart), a 15-year-old from this Nowheresville town. They make an odd trio - Hurt with his sad eyes, Stewart skittish and watchful, Redmayne (a Brit) playing it sweetly between idiot and savant.
And as the miles pass - and the ferries, the motels, the diners - Hanson tells his story. He's heading to the Big Easy to see if he can patch things up with May (Maria Bello), another fragile soul, who runs a small marina and whose relationship with Hanson was marred by a tragic incident.
Hurt, Stewart, and Redmayne do fine work here - and there's no suggestion of an older guy/young girl thing going on. (It's Redmayne who makes an awkward move on Stewart's Martine.) Here's this broken man, still with wisdom to offer, and here are these kids, unsure where their lives are leading, and here's this woman, with her houseboat and her regrets.
And the title? It's corny stuff, but the kind of corn that'll make you cry.
•• TIME, Mary Pols: The Yellow Handkerchief: An Oddly Enticing Road Trip
The Yellow Handkerchief is one of those small movies that seems to have a great deal going against it — implausibility of action, a contrived caginess and a dangerous need to be regionally evocative — but somehow manages to win you over, sucking you into its peculiar mood.
In a quietly divine performance, William Hurt plays Brett, a man with no one to greet him when he gets out of prison. He walks to a café, orders a beer, sits down to write a letter and observes the town tartlet (she's very young) get rejected by a boy who has obviously used her. Martine (Kristen Stewart) spins on her heel, lights on Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), the first male she spots in her age range, and offers to go off with him instead. Maybe there's a party, or a festival across the river — it's all a bit unclear — but their "date" begins by hopping into Gordy's old convertible and heading for what we presume to be the Mississippi. The film (releasing nationwide over the month of March) is set in the fall of 2007, and there's talk of all the damage from Hurricane Katrina that's awaiting them downstream.
Going off with Gordy is not exactly sweet revenge for Martine. He's been pestering everyone in the café, and he's about as sexy as Pee-wee Herman. Even the kid who dumped Martine looks baffled by her desperation. It takes her about five minutes to realize her mistake, and when she does, she asks Brett, who is also waiting for the ferry, to join them. Thus begins a road trip of Really Bad Ideas: young girl with daddy issues, ex-con and weirdo on an anywhere-but-here journey. That New Orleans emerges as one possible destination makes perfect sense. It's as wrecked and uncertain as these travelers.
Given how appealing Stewart is, with her bravado masking the permanent vulnerability of a good heart, the prospect of seeing her meet some grisly fate at the hands of her companions is even gloomier than counting how many more Twilight movies she has to make. Director Udayan Prasad keeps hyping the possibility by cutting to unsettling flashbacks featuring Maria Bello as Brett's former boss and crush. Is Brett wounded or the wounder? That boilerplate suspense technique is too obviously manipulative to have the creepy power of Gordy's resentful glances.
Sometimes an actor is naturally just strange enough, whether in looks or something deeper within, to carry off a role that would look like mannered showboating by anyone else. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. have that talent, and so does Crispin Glover, although he doesn't seem capable of swinging into normalcy. It's too early to tell what Redmayne's (The Good Shepherd, The Other Boleyn Girl) full range is, but he's definitely got the gift of riveting strangeness. You start out thinking his Gordy is the village idiot; then, as this ghostly pale, freckled redhead goes on and on about being Native American, you decide he's a fabulist. Watching him furtively stuff crayfish in his mouth, you add compulsive to the list.
The main consistency is that Redmayne grips as much as he repels. You want to grab his chin — Gordy is always in some sort of awkward motion — and hold him still so you can look into those clear, clean eyes of his and figure him out. Prasad directs to this unnerving fluidity; in the first scene in which we get a real sense of Gordy's character, he and Martine are talking in the backseat of the convertible as it whips along the highway and the wind tears the words out of their mouths. It seems Gordy needs the world to move faster than he does in order to simply be.
Later in the movie, someone asks why Martine got in Gordy's car in the first place. "To try to make someone care about me," she answers. Such self-knowledge is a fine thing, and the movie is pleased enough with itself to suggest that she's gained this in the time she spends with Brett and Gordy. Or at least she's learned to voice the truth. On paper that might have made me scoff — Martine is such a sketch of the bad girl in need — but Hurt and Redmayne sold me on the notion. As for the yellow handkerchief of the title, I'd have dismissed it as a cheesy device if it weren't for the fact that I'm still cherishing the eloquence of Hurt's silent marvel when he finally sees it, fluttering across the gray Southern sky.
•• SanDiego.com, Josh Board: Rating B+
The actors, including Kristen Stewart, make lightweight material work.
I hated the title The Yellow Handkerchief at first because I confused the title with White Ribbon and was calling it The Yellow Ribbon. Then the Red trilogy popped up at the Ken and really confused me.
After seeing the movie, I hated the title because it gave away a key scene near the end of the film. Had it been called The Yellow Sail, it would’ve gotten the same point across without giving anything away.
The movie stars Kristen Stewart, who really means nothing to me, since I haven’t seen any of the Twilight films. It was interesting to find out that this movie was made before any of those movies, back in 2007. I’m not sure why it’s just now being released.
The movie also has William Hurt, which is a name I always thought was perfect for him. He always seems to be reading his lines as if it pains him. On this character, a grizzled ex-con, it works (just as his look and acting fit perfectly in the underrated Dark City).
In my mind, I broke into the Donovan song "Mellow Yellow" when I saw the opening credits.
“They call her Maria Bello…”
She continues to dazzle, playing yet another interesting female love interest (Remember those love scenes with Viggo in The History of Violence? One involved a cheerleading outfit, another involved the stairs?).
This is a small, light-weight picture that is both a road trip (without the usual over-the-top wackiness of road pictures) and a chick flick (perhaps the only one ever made where women won’t fall for the male characters).
I enjoyed how the movie shows us little things in flashback that have us guessing what Hurt may have done his prison time for. It really makes it hard to warm up to him even if he is great with his new, young traveling companions.
One of those travelers is the kid with the car, a British actor named Eddie Redmayne, who plays a spaz better than any I’ve seen in a long while. He annoys you when he should, and he grows on you later in the movie—as he should. This kid (well, he plays 16…he’s 27 in real life) is going to have a great career ahead of him.
Stewart, as the woman of his affection (there are a few different love stories working here, a move that always seems to work well in films), plays the angry teen just perfectly; although, it was a bit distracting to see a trailer for the movie The Runaways right before this started (Stewart is playing Joan Jett in that).
I guess you can complain the movie is predictable, but if you’ve seen more than 25 movies in your life, what film isn’t? Did anyone not know who would win the battle in Avatar?
This is a character study that shows the backroads of Louisiana after Katrina in an interesting and slowly-paced way that gives you time to enjoy it and soak it all in.
Sure, there are times that “not a lot is happening.”
There are two different fight scenes, and a total of one punch is thrown.
How a movie gets made that has this little written dialogue in the script is beyond me. I’m just glad it was.
And, had three other actors been in these parts, I’m guessing this lightweight material would’ve been relegated to Lifetime as a TV movie of the week.
If I carried a hanky, I would’ve been balling into it at the end when we see the yellow handkerchief. I’m guessing most people will be moved by this.
•• The Washington Post, Michael O'Sullivan: 'The Yellow Handkerchief,' with Kristen Stewart: Healing broken hearts
"The Yellow Handkerchief" is a love story. Two, really. At its center is the sweetly fractured ticking of a broken heart on the mend.
On one level, that sound is the score by Jack Livesey and Eef Barzelay, whose deadpan, slightly clipped instrumentation underscores the poignancy of this Louisiana-set road story about three damaged individuals, lending it -- and them -- a kind of quiet dignity.
On another, more literal level, that heart belongs to Brett Hanson (William Hurt), an ex-con just released from prison after serving six years for -- well, it's not exactly clear at first, but he doesn't seem like that bad a guy. He is, however, very, very sad about something. Brett limps through the movie like a walking bruise, seemingly wincing at the pain of being awake. Through flashbacks, we learn that the pain has something to do with a woman named May (Maria Bello). Isn't it always so?
That's not the most interesting relationship in the film.
That would be the off-kilter triangle that Brett suddenly finds himself in after accepting a lift from Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), an artistic teenage misfit with a beat-up convertible who takes beautiful photos using expired film, and Martine (Kristen Stewart), a girl who seems to be halfheartedly running away. From what? A bad boyfriend, certainly, but also from an unhappy home life. Maybe even from herself.
They're three strangers just one beat out of sync with the universe. Gordy likes Martine, but Martine isn't interested in him. She feels a stronger connection to Brett, who's old enough to be her father, but to whom she responds almost maternally. "You can cry around me, if you want," she tells him. Gordy regards Brett with a mixture of sexual jealousy and filial admiration. The latter emotion grows exponentially after Gordy learns that Brett has a criminal past.
Trust me, this isn't as creepy as it sounds.
Over the course of the movie, directed by Udayan Prasad and written by Erin Dignam based on a story by Pete Hamill, this trio of losers somehow forms a kind of loony family. Like the one in "Little Miss Sunshine," which also used the metaphor of a broken-down car to drive home its point, the interpersonal dynamics are out of whack, but not unworkable.
As these two crazy kids rumble through a landscape of bayous and seedy motels, slowly peeling away the layers of Brett's past, they not only manage to heal this forlorn father figure's broken heart, but to slowly, tentatively find each other.
•• Pop Matters, Daniel Roberts: Rating 7/10
A Southern Road Film, Unafraid to Embrace Cliché
What exactly is the appeal of the “road movie?”
Audiences have made classics out of early examples, like Bonnie and Clyde, but throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s came more staples—Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Rain Man, among others. Comedy, of course, has embraced this trope above all other genres. Tommy Boy, Road Trip, and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle have all entertained teens using the same basic storyline.
The genre has given us thrillers, buddy flicks, and runaway stories. Even The Wizard of Oz is, essentially, a road film.
Something about a road trip makes for good storytelling. Even with the standard plot points of misadventures, close calls, new romances, and meaningful relationships forged after initial tension, the setting leaves room for intriguing bumps along the way.
Something about the wild times or cutesy romantic fun that characters end up having. People watch these moments and, whether they would admit it or not, envy the characters. They might roll their eyes at the sap, they might joke, “ugh, vomit” when someone suggests renting one of these, but inevitably, once people have agreed to watch one of these formulaic road flicks they end up smiling or crying, despite themselves, a la The Notebook. Viewers watch road trip movies and long to experience their own journeys.
In a slightly different vein from the comedies are a number of recent entries into the genre that strive for more seriousness. Wes Anderson’s subdued brotherly train ride through India, The Darjeeling Limited (2007), and the 2009 Dave Eggers-scripted Away We Go are two such examples. The road and the vehicle are mere backdrop for the interpersonal drama, which unfolds slowly and is typically set to mellow, plucky road music. These films require patience and curiosity. They give fewer zany twists, more arguments and awkwardness.
Director Udayan Prasad’s The Yellow Handkerchief, which will run at the USA Film Festival next week, is that sort of film. Yet it is also a character study. Scenes toggle between the present of 2007, in which two young people and a freshly-released convict travel through Louisiana, and the past, in which we see the history of that convict’s volatile relationship with the film’s fourth focus, May (played with gentle allure by Maria Bello, also of A History of Violence).
Brett, the “killer with a heart of gold” is played by William Hurt, who scored a 2005 Supporting Actor nod for his brief, menacing turn as a gangster in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Hurt provides the movie’s raw emotional power, oftentimes merely through facial expressions, and the movie would be lost without him. Brett takes an immediate interest in the two children, hopping in the convertible with them a bit too willingly, and it is unclear whether he is creepy or kind yet. For a while, the film runs with this doubt, until he emerges as a protective, if not cuddly, father figure.
Kristen Stewart, meanwhile, as Martine, continues to work the look she perfected in the Twilight series: brooding, possibly stoned. She does it with her eyes, and though Martine is merely a more impoverished, less delicate version of Bella the vampire-lover, she isn’t so bad. A romance develops between her and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne, who is currently performing on Broadway in Red alongside Alfred Molina as Mark Rothko). Redmayne’s good looks make his role as a friendless hick only partially convincing. The lack of surprise inherent in such a coupling is tempered by an overly aggressive early moment between them that leaves Martine angry and untrusting. The film deftly mirrors this interaction when we see, in flashback, convict Brett lustily grope May before she’s ready.
The film is adapted from a 1970s short story by the journalist Pete Hamill, and Prasad might have done well to leave it in the ‘70s. Characters don’t make any mention of technology anyway; no e-mailing or cell phones here. There are mentions of Katrina, though they add very little. There is a sense that Prasad, in his relocation of the story, is stretching to make the film topical, to force something that is not there.
The Yellow Handkerchief welcomes every cliché of the road movie formula, but still surprises audiences with moments of violence and depth. Stewart and Redmayne are passably interesting as the film’s hot young couple, and the anticipated reunion of Brett and May builds some power, but it is the interaction between Brett and Martine that captivates.
Abrupt shifts in mood and moments of brutal honesty keep things interesting, and keep the movie a few feet off the beaten path.
In its final, redemptive ending scene, audiences might groan as the neat bow is tied around our four characters. But most will allow themselves to smile, and maybe even cry. Cliché or not, it just feels so good.
•• SlackerWood, Don Clinchy: Feelings of loneliness and detachment usually isolate people from the world around them. But these feelings also can bring lonely souls together, bonding them with a shared sense of separation from their families and friends.
This paradoxical notion that separation can unite people is the central theme of The Yellow Handkerchief, a quietly intense film about three disparate strangers who generally trust no one but learn to trust each other while on a road trip through Louisiana. Smartly written, beautifully filmed and powerfully acted, The Yellow Handkerchief opens in Austin at the Arbor on Friday.
The story opens as Brett Hanson (William Hurt), newly paroled after six years in prison, wanders into a rural Louisiana town with a lot of emotional baggage and no idea where life will take him next. He meets awkward, lovelorn teen Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) and sullen teen beauty Martine (Kristen Stewart) after witnessing Gordy's inept and predictably disastrous attempt to impress the girl.
Although Martine has just met Gordy and has no interest in him, she does take him up on his offer to drive her out of town to escape the boredom of small-town life for a few hours. While waiting for a ferry that will take them across a river to the freedom that lies on the other shore, Gordy and Martine again meet Brett, who is headed for a bus station on the other shore also. At Martine's insistence, Brett agrees to ride with them to the bus station, but when a severe thunderstorm stops all public transportation, their short trip turns into an overnight stay at a motel. When the storm's aftermath stops the ferry and buses from running the next day also, the three decide to take a road trip together, heading toward Brett's former home in southern Louisiana.
Brett, Gordy and Martine meet under unlikely circumstances, and at first it seems implausible that such vastly different people would want to travel together. But as their conversations (and in Brett's case, multiple flashbacks) slowly reveal their backstories, it's apparent that they have much in common. More than anything, all three are seriously damaged goods. Well into grizzled middle age, Brett is on the run from a criminal past, a relationship that ended bitterly and crippling feelings of guilt. Gordy is the quintessential teen nerd -- gangly, smart, socially inept and now adrift, having left home after a terrible episode. And at only 15, Martine already is distancing herself from her dysfunctional family and hiding her loneliness behind a wall of teen-queen aloofness. Obviously, all three are running from any kind of attachment while barely hiding their desire for it.
The Yellow Handkerchief is short on plot, relying instead on well-written characters and superb acting to tell its slowly unfolding story. Hurt gives a typically spot-on performance as Brett; his bland handsomeness and affable demeanor make it plausible that two teenagers would give a normally scary stranger like him a ride. As Martine, Stewart exudes a cool, somewhat jaded sexuality and proves she has the acting chops for far meatier roles than Bella Swan. (Hopefully, we'll see more of her in productions like The Yellow Handkerchief and less of her in Twilight sequels.) Maria Bello is hard as nails in a supporting role as Brett's love interest, May, whose toughness and slightly shopworn beauty hint that she's dealing with her own painful past.
The film's most multilayered and amazing performance, however, is Redmayne's Gordy. Redmayne -- a British actor in his late twenties -- convincingly portrays a Louisiana teenager who is emotionally immature and yet sometimes wise beyond his years, the sort of kid who can't get a date but can tell middle-aged Brett a thing or two about relationships.
Filmed on location in New Orleans and Morgan City, Louisiana, The Yellow Handkerchief also has a keen sense of place as character. The road-trip theme affords many drive-by shots of rusting small towns and lush farmland, as well as empty, storm-ravaged buildings, FEMA trailers and other remnants of life after Katrina and the resulting floods. The weatherbeaten characters travel in an equally weatherbeaten land, but both endure.
My only complaint about The Yellow Handkerchief is the ending. To avoid a spoiler, I'll just say that at the end of an intense story about complex people, the tone changes suddenly and everything is wrapped up a far too neatly to be believable. Then again, indie and art films are famous for ambiguous endings, so my gripe about the tidy closure at the end of The Yellow Handkerchief may be mostly because it defies convention. (Real-life situations sometimes are neatly resolved, so I suppose indie film plots can be, too.) But aside from the ending, I found The Yellow Handkerchief to be poignant, true to life and thoroughly enjoyable.
•• Entertainment Spectrum, Keith Cohen: Three strangers form the bonds of a makeshift family as they take a road trip through the Louisiana bayous in an old convertible.
Brett Hanson (William Hurt from “Into the Wild” and “A History of Violence”) is a free man again after serving a six-year prison sentence for manslaughter. Martine (Kristen Stewart, best known as Bella Swan from the “The Twilight Saga” movies) is a troubled teenager who feels ignored by her truck driver father. Gordy (Eddie Redmayne from “The Other Boleyn Girl”) is a misunderstood youngster who grew up on an Indian reservation.
Their paths cross one lazy afternoon at a diner in a backwater town. They end up spending three memorable days together.
Brett is a man of few words, but he slowly reveals his painful past to the two kids. It involves his relationship with ex-wife May (Maria Bello from “A History of Violence,” “Thank You for Smoking” and “The Cooler”). His story is dramatized in flashbacks, which become the beating heart and motivational impetus of the movie.
This uplifting film is an indie gem with a wonderful payoff that will bring you to tears. The acting is superlative and makes this emotionally moving experience good to the last drop.
High praise goes to British director Udayan Prasad for using the eyes of the performers as windows to the soul. Screenwriter Erin Dignam has an astute understanding of the way men and women approach intimacy and love. Men are willing to jump right in before testing the water. Women want to get to know and feel comfortable around another person initially.
All the characters come from broken homes and are seeking a sense of belonging.
This film adaptation comes from a 1971 article written by Pete Hamill that inspired the Tony Orlando and Dawn hit song “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree.”
Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges (“The Reader,” “Michael Collins,” “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields”) wields a very observant camera that captures crucial non-verbal reactions.
Besides the lush green and swampy scenery of rural Louisiana, post-Katrina New Orleans and Morgan City background locations add immensely to the sentimental, thought-provoking atmosphere.
•• UT San Diego, David Germain: William Hurt does possibly the best haunted eyes in Hollywood.
His droopy eyeballs are a highlight of "The Yellow Handkerchief," a standard-issue indie drama about hitting the road with strangers in hopes of reconnecting with an intimate from your past.
Hurt infuses ex-convict Brett Hanson with deep, palpable melancholy, yet the story rides on transparent artifice and weepy sentiment that turns to goo by the end.
The movie's main appeal rests with fine performances from Hurt and co-stars Kristen Stewart, Maria Bello and Eddie Redmayne, who lend "The Yellow Handkerchief" far more weight than its meager drama merits.
Produced by Academy Awards heavyweight Arthur Cohn ("Central Station," "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"), "The Yellow Handkerchief" traces Brett's simple sojourn through post-Katrina Louisiana to reunite with lost love May (Bello).
Just out of prison after six years, Brett catches a lift with awkward teenager Martine (Stewart), who in turn has tagged along with the twitchy Gordy (Redmayne) in hopes of making another boy jealous.
What begins as a short hop across the river becomes a mission for all three as Brett shares his sad life story with his traveling companions, who are transfixed by the tragedies that tore him and May apart and Brett's against-all-odds hope to give it one last chance.
Working from a short story by Pete Hamill, director Udayan Prasad ("My Son the Fanatic") and screenwriter Eric Dignam fashion a narrative that flits clumsily from the present-day road trip - during which little actually happens - and flashbacks laden with emotional resonance between Brett and May.
Hurt and Bello, who co-starred in "A History of Violence" but did not share any scenes in that film, play off each other so well that it's disappointing the flashbacks make up such a relatively small portion of "The Yellow Handkerchief."
Stewart and Redmayne form a nice bond with Hurt and each other, but their characters are thinly developed and the wisp of incipient romance swirling between them feels like filler next to Brett and May's grand passion.
Chris Menges, Oscar-winning cinematographer for "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission," provides some bleak but gorgeous images of bayou country and the detritus left by Katrina.
"The Yellow Handkerchief" has been kicking around since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago, in Stewart's pre-"Twilight" days.
It arrives now as little more than a curiosity, a featherweight tearjerker featuring a promising young actress before she had Hollywood at her feet.
•• UT San Diego, Alison Gang: Cruising through the back roads of Louisiana bayou country, three strangers from two generations escape their lives, in search of something — anything — better. For Martine (Kristen Stewart), it’s fleeing her family and rejection from a teenage tryst. For off-kilter Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), it’s finding a father he barely knows and winning Martine’s affection. And for Brett (William Hurt), just released from a six-year stay in prison, it’s back to his ex-wife May (Maria Bello), who may or may not want him.
“The Yellow Handkerchief,” directed by Udayan Prasad and written by Erin Dignam (based on a short story by Pete Hamill), brings these three outsiders together for a road trip in Gordy’s vintage convertible, heading south toward post-Katrina New Orleans.
From the outset, Prasad creates a soothing, lackadaisical tone that perfectly reflects the road trip experience — cut off from the world, totally free. Even the small backwater towns they pass through seem deserted, easily providing abandoned homes for shelter and unattended gas stations for junk car parts. It’s as if no one else in the world exists except these three people and their pasts.
Brett starts off quiet, asserting himself only when Martine and Gordy’s bickering escalates. Clearly a girl with “daddy issues,” Martine bonds to Brett right away, flirting with him and trying to outshine her irritating “sibling.” But Hurt remains paternal, quietly encouraging peace between the two. Not an easy feat as something is emotionally amiss with Gordy. He has the demeanor of a reckless 8-year-old and always manages to say and do the wrong the thing, irritating Martine (and occasionally us) to no end. But Hurt calmly encourages patience and acceptance, and it works.
As the threesome meanders, slowly revealing pieces of their lives to each other, we discover what the film really is — Brett and May’s love story. We first get glimpses of Brett’s romantic past through quick flickers of memory. These flashes eventually expand into full scenes, and Brett and May’s relationship becomes the film’s focus.
When the children discover that Brett is an ex-con, they want to know his life story, and Brett gives it to them, almost like he’s telling a bedtime story. We’ve gotten to know enough about Brett to feel that this kind of personal revelation is out of character, even more so when he lets them tag along as he goes to see May. But then again, the freedom of the open road can do funny things to a person.
May is the most engaging of the characters. Beautifully portrayed by Bello, she harbors emotional wounds that are never articulated. They are just part of her and reveal themselves as her relationship with Brett grows and eventually self-destructs.
A well-acted little film, “The Yellow Handkerchief” captures the loneliness of these characters, and the sparks of hope they harbor despite everything. But its narrative shift alters the tone midway through, taking us to a place that feels more like a mainstream romantic drama than the indie character study you are expecting.