reviewed by Andrew Dykstra
It sounds like a simple enough story, but Fay Grim has some real flaws that keep it from being truly recommendable. Hartley crams the espionage angle with a Clancy novel's worth of history on the covert indiscrepencies of Henry's encounters as a rogue agent and tangling the story with enough double-crosses to spin the audience's attention into total confusion.
I love the way Hartley fleshes out his characters. His dialogue and character rendition are the shining backbone of all his films, equal parts unique and engrossing, and the moments in Fay Grim that utilize those elements are far and away the best parts of the film, making it all the more glaring when the sharpness of the characters gives way to a maddening flood of overcomplicated backstory.
The acting is solid all the way around. I've never been a huge fan of Parker Posey. Something about her always distracted me, but her turn as Fay was almost pitch perfect. In her part, she held up as much of the film as she was able to, flighty and flirtatious personified. She couldn't quite save the film, but she was a joy to watch. Jeff Goldblum needs more work, STAT. His performance as lead agent Fulbright played up his signature dryness and wit to perfection. The rest of the supporting cast, with James Urbaniak as Fay's brother Simon, Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry Fool, and a parade of others, did their work well. The direction's a tad clunky at times, (even outside the writing problems) with the whole film being shot on dutch angles and occasionally awkward rapid-fire photo montages. A little too distracting for its own good.
It's really a shame to give this film such a low rank, considering. Hartley's capable of more than what came out here, and i hope that next time, he will treat us to a piece that can really take advantage of his unique voice. This is definitely not your average movie, and I would still throw out a cautioned nudge to catch it if you get the opportunity. There's enough about it to give it that.
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