Hal Hartley returns with the dramedy ‘Ned Rifle’ as the final installment in his trilogy that started in 1997 with ‘Henry’s Fool.’ Hartley’s distinctive story telling voice, accompanied by a stand out performance from a deadpan, sultry Aubrey Plaza make this his most accessible effort to date.
The story begins seven years after the last film 2006’s ‘Fay Grim,’ where Fay took the fall for her husband Henry and is imprisoned for terrorist acts. Henry and Fay’s son Ned (Liam Aiken) has been taken in by a devout Christian family where his set of Christian moral values convince him to set out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother’s life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome Susan (Aubrey Plaza), whose connection and obsession with his father Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Grim family.
The ensuing revenge fuelled adventure finds Ned traveling to New York, where he crosses paths with, Fay’s self-obsessed brother and poet Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) who seeks mainstream populist success and has given up his poetry for a weekly stand up comedy blog. Ned discovers a mysterious, lipstick smudged young grad student named Susan (Aubrey Plaza) sat in the hotel lobby, who harbours dubious motives. A wide-eyed and possibly lunatic character in knee high socks who is simultaneously stalking Simon, ghost-writing Fay’s memoirs and obsessed with Henry’s legacy. Plaza is fascinating as she embodies Hal Hartley’s world. It’s a delightfully weird role for Plaza, and this is certainly her best to date.
As a stand alone film Plaza and Aiken carry enough energy and intrigue to keep audiences entertained. Although having prior knowledge of the trilogy is advantageous it is not essential. However, at times the script feels like stand alone quotes as Susan, Simon and Henry are all guilty of reeling off literary criticism that does feel overly verbose, it feels appropriate with the obsessive nature of Susan’s character, but not as essential to the others. Hartley also employs a rather annoying jingle which accompanies Henry’s hallucinations which was perhaps one quirk too far.
The emotional tone of the film does have a great climax, where Ned turns from the vengeful killer to the hero in his own story of redemption, as he realises he can step out of his fathers shadow and make his own decisions. Although the narrative is unexpected and Susan and Henry’s relationship is a bizarre revelation, you do leave the cinema feeling satisfied that Ned’s story has come full circle.
This independent film is well worth a watch for Aubrey Plaza’s performance alone.
You can rent or buy it now from Vimeo On Demand now – https://vimeo.com/ondemand/nedrifle?gclid=CKbv1N6M4sQCFVDHtAodND4Awg