Hal Hartley’s dark comedy “Henry Fool” was an indie masterpiece that effectively and accessibly meshed Hartley’s literary influences with his specific minimalist style and some of the most memorable characters of the last decade. Now, Hartley takes the characters he created for that world and launches them into a surprisingly different direction in “Fay Grim,” a worthy follow-up and rare art house sequel.
When we last saw our antiheroes, Simon had won the Nobel Prize for his profane and controversial poetry, Henry had fled murder charges by allegedly going to Stockholm using Simon’s passport, and Fay was left with a young son after Henry had impregnated and married her seven years earlier. The handwritten, multipart opus Henry had been flouting, “The Confessions of Henry Fool,” was largely thought to be a horrible novel, literary excrement perpetuated by a vulgar man with a vivid imagination.
In “Fay Grim,” it is another seven years later and Henry’s still missing, Simon is in prison for abetting his escape and Fay is concerned that her 14-year-old son, Ned (Liam Aiken), is turning into his father. Fay is quickly dragged into a wild game of international espionage and the duality of her love-hate relationship with Henry re-emerges.
Posey gets to reprise one of her best roles, the deeply loyal Fay, whose faith drives this film. She may need a small “How to Pray” card in order to deliver a simple prayer, but she’s a strong woman, intensely protective of her family. Her love for Henry, despite the fact she is simultaneously repelled by his repugnancy and incorrigible behavior, enables her to go forward even while being completely in the dark as to what is happening around her. Hartley has described the character as a “representative well-intentioned American who is, however, ill-informed,” but Posey adds to her a stylish sexiness that makes her down-to-earth qualities even more attractive.
Action sequences accomplished with freeze-frames that look as if they were ripped from some avant-garde German fashion magazine form a stop-motion ballet, visually energizing the beautifully shot (by Sarah Cawley Cabiya) high-definition film. Askew camera angles fuel the fear, paranoia and surprisingly tense pace.
Although “Fay Grim” is clearly of a piece with his previous films, it marks new generic territory for the filmmaker. “Amateur” had aspects of the Hitchcockian thriller, but this film feels like Hartley has been handed a Bourne or a Bond movie to direct and maintained his own style and low-budget aesthetic while thoroughly enjoying and deconstructing his new toy. — L.A. Times