The good news is that The Yellow Handkerchief isn’t yet another movie where characters leading totally unrelated lives end up in each others’ faces by the end credits, an infuriating been there, done that cliche threatening to overtake the Hollywood happy ending.
Directed by India born British filmmaker Udayan Prasad, this gently conceived road movie winding its way through dank Louisiana bayou territory lensed by master cinematographer Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Reader), is steeped in dense, humid atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a sharecropper sickle. If only the upstaged tale itself was told with such raw intensity, rather than feeling more like a travelogue sampled by clueless big city intruders.
Taking time off from vampire infatuation but still apparently into Native American male magnets, Kristen Stewart stars in The Yellow Handkerchief as Martine, a snobby sexpot mad at her trucker dad for bad parenting skills, who hops a ride to basically nowhere on a whim with Gordy (Eddie Redmayne). He’s an awkward nerd and possibly disturbed young man, cast out from his Indian tribe for abnormal behavior yet to be revealed. And much to Gordy’s displeasure, who harbors sexual fantasies about having the tempting hitchhiker all to himself, Martine insists that they give mysterious ex-con aimless wanderer grownup and former oil rig worker Brett (William Hurt) a ride as well.
Martine not only flirts with the older guy by luring him into staring contests, but she figures he can protect her from borderline loose cannon horny Gordy, and it seems she’s not far from the truth. When not into his secret stash of porn magazines on the sly, or puking raw crayfish, Gordy is ordered to sleep in a motel john by Brett, after attempting to force himself on Martine in the room they all share.
After a series of misadventures involving assorted backwater country yokel caricatures, the threesome strike out on a fresh, spur of the moment itinerary, driving down into oil rig territory in search of Brett’s long lost sweetheart turned estranged wife, May (Maria Bello). As flashback scenes of the unraveling relationship unfold along with random sightseeing pit stops, we learn that Brett’s dark side involves possibly rabid pro-life movement sentiments. In a not exactly color coordinated scenario, yellow handkerchiefs meet bible belt blues. And there likely won’t be a wet tissue in the theater.
The poetic, off the beaten path landscapes caught on camera are lovely to behold, and Hurt’s introspective dramatic gifts as a seasoned thespian here are superb. But the projected pathos of this cross-generational mood piece is emotionally remote and primarily unearned. While Redmayne’s twitchy borderline wacko youth would have been done much better by Crispin Glover a decade ago.
Based on a story originally written by famed big city journalist Pete Hamill, the film conjures a relentlessly unfamiliar and alien place where crocodiles, snakes and all sorts of eccentric when not unhinged redneck humans roam free. Hamill was also one of the four men who disarmed convicted RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan. Which would have made for a far better movie.
Samuel Goldwyn Films
2 1/2 stars
DVD Features: Theatrical Trailers.