Filmmaker Hal Hartley concludes his trilogy of films about the Grim family with Ned Rifle. Labelled a terrorist by the media, Fay Grim (Parker Posey) is sentenced to life in prison. Shortly afterwards, her son Ned Rifle (Liam Aiken), who has been living under witness protection with a reverend and his family, decides to search for and kill his father Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), in retaliation for ruining his mother’s life. Ned finds himself joined in his search by a girl named Susan Weber (Aubrey Plaza), who has her own reasons for finding Henry.
Ned Rifle concludes a trilogy that Hal Hartley has been developing for the last 18 years, following 1997’s Henry Fool and 2006’s Fay Grim. I went into Ned Rifle not having seen either of the previous films, or any of Hal Hartley’s films for that matter, and the only thing I really knew about the film was the promotional photos and posters, which featured Aubrey Plaza scantily clad and/or holding a gun. As such, I sort have expected Ned Rifle to be a totally different type of film than the film it turned out to be.
Of course that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Ned Rifle, even though I probably would have enjoyed it better if I saw the previous two films first. Even though they are all a decade or so a part, this whole trilogy seems to be somewhat serialized and seeing Henry’s Fool and Fay Grim first probably would have given me a better understanding of the characters, including lead actor Liam Aiken, who has been playing the character of Ned Rifle since he was 7 years old. That all said, the film does reveal enough through exposition that I wasn’t completely lost about what was going on.
It was really hard for me to gauge the tone of Ned Rifle, which was somewhat of a cross between a comedy, drama, and a revenge thriller. Having been raised by a reverend, Ned Rifle is a now a very devout Christian and these beliefs both rationalize and conflict with Ned’s desire to kill his father. Aubrey Plaza as Susan Weber can be described somewhat as the femme fatale of this story, with her having checkered past and her own motivations. As I said earlier, it is interesting that most of the marketing for the film has focused on her, in a somewhat different context than she actually is portrayed in the film. Plaza’s performance in the film is not too much of a departure of the types of characters she is usually known for playing, however I would like to see her someday in the film I thought that Ned Rifle was going to be.
Ultimately, my experience with Ned Rifle was affected by both a unfamiliarity with the previous films in this trilogy and the belief that this was going to be a totally different type of film. While it’s not a bad indie drama, I definitely would have enjoyed this more if I knew the backstory.
★ ★ ★ 1/2 | FAIR
Ned Rifle is now playing at The Royal Cinema in Toronto