The first film that I saw at this year’s SXSW Film Festival was a movie called Ned Rifle, which is the third film in a trilogy of cult-indie films from writer-director Hal Hartley. The first two were the films titled Henry Fool and the second was called Fay Grim, all named after characters in this trilogy of films. I’ve never seen these films, and up until a few months back, I didn’t know a whole lot about this film or this filmmaker. But what caught my eye was that one of the leads in this third and final film, Ned Rifle, was Aubrey Plaza, whose just coming off her 7 season-stint on Parks and Recreation, one of my favorite television shows of the last 15 years. The young actress has begun to prove herself as a comedic actress on television as well as in movies, with her most noteworthy performance, at least for me, was her brilliant turn in 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, which I highly recommend that you check out if you haven’t already. I’m getting a little carried away, so let’s begin the review for Ned Rifle.
Liam Aiken, who was in the previous installments of this trilogy and you may remember as the boy from A Series of Unfortunate Events 10 years ago, plays the titular lead character of Ned, a boy whose mother, played by Parker Posey, was convicted and is serving a life sentence for a terrorist attack that she didn’t commit. Ned has been living the past four years of life with a religious family and has since become a man of God. Once Ned turns 18, he decides that he’s going after his father with plans to kill him, for framing his mother in this terroristic attack. During Ned’s journey to find and kill his father, he meets a mysterious woman named Susan, played by Ms. Plaza, who has a past of her own, and the two go searching for Ned’s father.
Hal Hartley, from what I’ve researched on the man, appears to be one of the most renowned and respected independent filmmakers from when independent filmmaking became a thing in the late-80’s/early-90’s. Judging from the people asking questions during the Q&A after the film, the man has a following, and I can understand why that is with this film. The film tackles a lot into a film that’s under 90 minutes, with sin, religion, lust, etc. This is a film with some brains to it, and while Ned Rifle is not a perfect film, it’s a very solid dramedy that makes me really want to watch those first two installments in this trilogy.
Liam Aiken, whom I’m surprised never went the traditional route with his career when Unfortunate Events was released, does a terrific job in this film as the young Ned, who plays the young youth whose hellbent on killing his father very well, with his dialogue (along with everyone else’s dialogue in the film) coming off like poetry, but it never feels pretentious. Parker Posey isn’t in the film for long, but the scenes that she’s in are quick and funny, which is nice to see Posey in, since the last thing I saw her in was Louie. Thomas Jay Ryan plays Henry Fool, the father of Ned in the film, and he’s one of my favorite parts of the film. You can tell that the character is a real son of a bitch, but he’s funny and has these dry quips in his scenes that are terrific. And the dude has a terrific sounding voice, if I might add.
But I’d easily say that this film’s standout is Ms. Plaza. She plays this sexy, mysterious, and possibly very psychotic woman who goes on this journey with Ned, and she nails it. The role isn’t quite a departure from her dead-pan style humor that we’re use to seeing her do, as there are some genuinely funny moments that she has in the film that are really funny. But when we start to find out more about this very troubled young woman, and it proves that Aubrey Plaza has the potential to be one of our best young actresses’ working today. I hope that she continues to pursue ballsy projects like this in the near future.
I do have a nitpick with the film. Mr. Hartley scored the film, which didn’t always work with me. It was really synthy, which worked sometimes, but most times it didn’t. The film was made for dirt cheap, so I can understand that Mr. Hartley wasn’t able to afford an orchestra, but it felt a little off at times. But other than that, Ned Rifle is a very entertaining and swiftly paced indie flick that should be worth your time when it premieres On Demand in the near future. Again, if I had to recommend this film for any reason, it would be for Plaza’s terrific performance in this film, which may be her best screen performance to date. So that does it for me this evening. I’ll get another review out for you before the end of tomorrow for SXSW, so keep up to date on my social media links.
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