Ned Rifle: Better Than Boyhood? Hal Hartley’s More Daring And Dark Suburban Noir

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Less Boyhood than perhaps Boy In The Hood, Hal Hartley completes his intermittent suburban bio-trilogy counting Henry Fool, Fay Grim and now Ned Rifle. But half a dozen years longer than Richard Linklater’s decidedly more conventional odyssey – and infinitely more dark and daring.

That is, for those preferring their family dramas with the accent on dysfunctionally deviant, and with an ample chaser of toxic lunacy. While touching on the world way beyond Woodside, Queens, with flaky forays into America’s satirically laden take on, you name it – the war on terror, gun love, religious fundamentalism, secret prisons, the CIA, Homeland Security, Mossad, the crafty and corrupt pharmaceutical industry, and the oddly combo passionate pretentiousness of academia.

Ned Rifle begins with a now emancipated 18 year old Ned (Liam Aiken), the understandably troubled son of Fay Grim (Parker Posey) and Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) who first appeared as a six year old in Henry Fool. Ned it seems, was sent into a witness protection program following his mother’s arrest on charges of international terrorism, don’t ask, when she found herself disappeared into a secret CIA prison,

Ned is intent on tracking down his diabolical dad in hiding, and killing him in revenge for destroying the family. Now bearing the government approved alias of Ned Rifle, the introspective, gloomy teen departs from his religious suburban foster family headed by a caring minister (Martin Donovan), and heads to New York City in search of clues from his uncle, Simon Grim (James Urbaniak).

The only member of the peculiar family without his own biopic, Simon has morphed from humble garbageman to celebrated poet – and now currently a hermit comic with his own channel on YouTube, obsessively in touch at the moment with his ‘inner clown.’ Following leads from Simon that Henry is a wanted fugitive for a lengthy menu of charges and hiding out in Seattle, Ned sets out for the West Coast. And apparently under free lance surveillance by a covertly flirty femme fatale coed and former bottom feeder film critic (Aubrey Plaza) with her own hidden agenda, who is apparently stalking all three of them.

The detours along this suburban noir road movie are endlessly convoluted. But peppered with such richly conceived verbal literary abandon, that all is forgiven. Though not so for these collectively questionable kooks, where nearly everyone here is a philosophizing felon, or potentially so. And whose greatest crime all told, much to the bold whim of a rarely disappointing Hartley, is reading too much.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.