Film Review: Simple Men

So, for the third day in a row I settled in for another of Empire’s film recommendations. And while their claims of film greatness have so far been hit and miss, with the brilliant What Maisie Knew brought crashing back to earth by the downright bizarre A Field In England, I was prepared to continue believing in their reviews and following their advice.

And so this time, combining their reviews and the availability of the Curzon on demand service, Simple Men, Hal Hartley’s 1992 tale of two brothers on the hunt for their anarchist farther, was given it’s chance to shine. To entertain. To remind me that Empire do, more often than not, know what they are talking about, and create lists of worthwhile films.

For some reason though, Simple Men has always confused me, it’s almost as if I’ve imagined that there are two films of the same name and never felt quite sure I was looking at the right one. Part of my thinks that this is because, I’ve watched the trailer and I’ve seen the poster/box art and, in my head, been unable to connect the two. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but it’s meant that I’ve always felt slightly unsettled towards Simple Men. Slightly worried that the film I was going to watch, wasn’t actually the film I should be watching, even though I knew it was.

Nun Policemen - Simple Men

And that slight trepidation, the slight feeling of unease meant that as the film started I wasn’t as relaxed as I should be, I hadn’t quite committed myself fully to believing in the film. It was starting on the back foot and would have to work harder than it probably deserved to in its attempts to win me over.

At it’s heart is a simplistic tale that really isn’t hard to follow but nothing is ever explained in the detail you long for to truly feel a part of the story. Events come and go, people drop in and out and the story moves forward but it lacks depth. Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You don’t always need a characters entire back story, their entire family history laid out in front of you to believe in them, or understand their motives, but in Simple Men this superficial “what you see is what you get” approach means that you never truly believe in the characters. It creates a world into which you are never really immersed.

And as the film goes on, the more this becomes apparent. And the more it becomes annoying. For instance, while there is nothing wrong with seeing a Nun wrestling with a Policemen, if you don’t explain the context, it becomes strange and confusing; and that is exactly what happens. In the same way, that references made through the dialogue that go without being developed or expanded serve to confuse and befuddled rather than help create any empathy or believability in the characters or their actions.

Robert John Burke & Bill Sage - Simple Men

And while the lack of any clear reasoning behind the plot may be the biggest complaint I have about this film, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the cast. Robert John Burke and Bill Sage, as the two brothers around which the story revolves, really do look like brothers. Both in terms of the way they act together, as well as, the way they look together. If you have a sibling then you’ll understand that strange, unfathomable bond which means that no matter how independent from each other you become there is always that instant understanding as to why and how they will react in any given situation. And the fact that something so primaeval is portrayed with such clarity as it is in this, is a joy to watch and without doubt, the films main redeeming feature.

Over all, I don’t really know whether I enjoyed this film or not. The story is good. It’s a fun, bordering slightly on a silly, light-hearted tale, but it never moves you. It feels weak. Limp. And therefore, unsatisfying. I wasn’t bored and I have seen far, far worse films over the years, but it’s certainly not a film that will live long into my memory. It just lacks a stand out moment, an event which you get stuck in your head and instead it just monotonously tells you it’s story.

I think it’s biggest problem though, is that it just doesn’t fit into a box: it’s not a film to while away time on a rainy day, or a film to make an event of, or even a film to watch with friends. It’s just a film. And so you have to ask yourself why you’d watch it over anything else?

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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