The Yellow Handkerchief
Dir: Udayan Prasad
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Despite his string of Oscar nominations in high profile films in the ’80s, William Hurt has spent the last two decades working on smaller projects that, although they could never replicate the success of the heyday of Kiss of the Spider Woman and Children of a Lesser God, prove that Hurt may be one of America’s consummate actors. Though his good looks and most of his blonde hair have been lost to age, Hurt sparkled in lower profile films like A History of Violence and Sunshine while still drawing a paycheck from big budget blockbusters like A.I. and The Incredible Hulk.
After sitting on the shelf for two years, Samuel Goldwyn Films has finally released The Yellow Handkerchief starring Hurt and Kristen Stewart, now a big deal because of those Twilight films. Hurt stars as Brett, a recently released convict who meets up with strangers Martine (Stewart) and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a teen with autism or Aspergers, in rural Louisiana. It doesn’t take long for the three to jump into Gordy’s piece of shit car and drive towards New Orleans. While Brett’s motivations for visiting the Big Easy are nebulous, Gordy is a natural misfit and nomad and Martine simply has nothing better to do with her time.
Although director Uduayan Prasad frames our three protagonists in beautiful bayou scenery and delicate sunlight, he does not give us enough to want to spend time with these people. Gordy is annoying and spastic, Martine lacks depth and Brett is suffering from a past tragedy that Prasad teases us with in various flashbacks until the big reveal towards the end.
The most successful character stories feature interesting characters and the three people in The Yellow Handkerchief do nothing but telegraph their emotional role in this impromptu triangle. Gordy is a misfit, but he tells us he’s a misfit. Martine is lonely and neglected, and she tells us she is lonely and neglected. Hurt does a decent job of showing long-simmering pain, but the flashback scenes with Maria Bello undercut his suffering with rote conversations and a tragedy that feels shoe-horned in as a deus ex machina for Hurt’s character to go to jail.
When the film’s titular yellow handkerchief shows up at the end of the film, it is done for weepy, sentimental effect rather than add anything new about the characters. In fact, there is no mention of a yellow handkerchief until the film’s final scenes, making its arrival an even more blatant tear grab. Unfortunately, by the end of the road trip, we care nothing for any of these characters, despite Hurt’s best attempt to play such a skimpy role with dignity.