SIMPLE MEN (director/writer: Hal Hartley; cinematographer: Michael Spiller; editor: Steve Hamilton; music: Hal Hartley/Yo La Tengo; cast: Robert John Burke (Bill McCabe), William Sage (Dennis McCabe), John Alexander MacKay (William McCabe), Karen Sillas (Kate), Martin Donovan (Martin), Elina Löwensohn (Elina), Joe Stevens (Jack), Holly Marie Combs (Kim), Jeffrey Howard (Ned Rifle), Mary McKenzie (Vera), Marietta Marich (Mom), Vivian Lanko (Nun), Richard Reyes (Security Guard), Chris Cooke (Vic), Mark Chandler Bailey (Mike), Damian Young (Sheriff); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ted Hope/Jerome Brownstein/Bruce Weiss/Hal Hartley; Fine Line Features; 1992-UK/USA)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Hal Hartley (“The Unbelievable Truth”/”Trust”/”Henry Fool”) presents another of his smart-assed satires about the alienated twentysomethings of Long Island. The simple story about simple men involves a search by the womanizing professional thief Bill McCabe (Robert Burke) and his bookish philosophy student younger brother Dennis (William Sage) for their fugitive father (John Alexander MacKay). He’s the former Dodgers shortstop in 1956 who became a Pentagon-bombing terrorist in 1968, and has been in hiding for the last 23 years until recently captured by the FBI. But he escapes from his holding cell, and the NYC boys believe he’s somewhere in Long Island because their mom, who has long given up on her hubby, gave them his emergency number.
The film opens mid-robbery as a gun-toting Bill robs the firm that employs him of $650,000 worth of computer equipment, but his crime partners Vera and Frank double-cross him before the robbery is completed and run off with the money leaving Bill only $3,000. Vera was Bill’s blonde girlfriend who trades him in for Frank, which so upsets Bill that he vows to take advantage of the next blonde he meets. Bill’s only solace is that he takes from the security guard (Richard Reyes) his religious image of the Virgin Mary he wears around his neck for good luck, as the guard tells him: “Be good to her and she’ll be good to you.”
With the cops after him for the caper, Bill visits mom and gives her the ‘dirty money’ so she can trek to Florida. A concerned Dennis talks the reluctant Bill into searching for their dad in order to try to get to know him and see if it’s true that he planted the bomb that killed seven people. But Bill only goes because the cops are after him. Using the last of their limited funds, the boys land in Long Island and soon work a deal with an infantile sheltered biker named Ned to trade his unreliable motorcycle for Bill’s gun. Before the boys depart, Ned comments on his broken bike: “Nothing like a machine to make a man insignificant.”
On the road the boys meet the epileptic Elina (Elina Lowensohn) and her beautiful friend Kate (Karen Sillas), a blonde who runs a roadside cafe she got from her ex-husband Jack. Bill instantly falls for her, while Dennis makes a play for Elina–even after finding out she’s his father’s Romanian girlfriend he is planning on meeting in this spot.
Other characters pop in on the action including a gas station attendant (Mark Chandler Bailey) with a Van Dyke beard who practices his French and his guitar on the customers, an emotionally upset sheriff (Damian Young) given to sniveling orations on the human condition, a just released from jail psychopath (Joe Stevens) and an owner of a fishing boat (Martin Donovan) who is dour because Kate turned him down and has now turned secretly into a revolutionist.
Simple Men is irresistibly charming as it goes on the road in Long Island (actually filmed in Texas), Hartley’s familiar haunts for middle-class angst, and offers many colorful characters who express themselves in a droll manner that is weird but believable. It’s a fresh story filled with unpredictable moments and a barrage of witty dialogue. The ensemble cast is superb, especially the performances of Burke, Sillas and Sage.
REVIEWED ON 12/6/2004 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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