One should always be a little wary of a film that was shot three years before its release date. Sure, some movies merely take awhile to get through the production pipeline but when it's an independent drama like The Yellow Handkerchief, it probably means something is wrong. This character piece features three interesting performances but they're all fighting against a screenplay that values cliché over believability and a director who can't find the right rhythm or tone for the piece. What's most jarring about The Yellow Handkerchief is that it never feels like anything but a movie with its characters who constantly say what they're feeling and doing and it never once feels genuine or organic. Stars William Hurt and, to a lesser but still notable extent, Kristen Stewart elevate this material well above what it was on the page and the cinematography of a post-Katrina Louisiana by the always-great Chris Menges (The Reader, The Mission) is remarkably good, but The Yellow Handkerchief never comes together.
The Yellow Handkerchief opens with the release of Brett (William Hurt) from prison. Hurt's world-weary eyes and wrinkled face telegraphs a lifetime of experience more than any of the film's overcooked dialogue. Brett quickly teams up with a pair of loner teenagers with little in common: An awkward Native American named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) and a sullen girl named Martine (Kristen Stewart). The ragtag trio begins a physical and emotional journey across Louisiana to the southern edge of the country. The film intercuts between the present day journey across the ravaged state and flashbacks that will clearly explain what landed Brett in jail in the first place. Through the flashbacks, we learn of the story of Brett and May (Maria Bello), the one good thing that ever happened to this ex-con and, of course, how it ended in jail. Meanwhile, the socially uncomfortable Gordy and lonely Martine learn a lesson or two along the way.
And that remembrance is such a ridiculous, only-in-the-movies situation that it sinks any ounce of subtlety set up by Hurt and Stewart with their acting. The final series of flashbacks add a manipulative plot point designed to enhance the emotional weight of the final act but it only serves to remind the viewer how much the film wallows in clichés. No one's behavior in the film rings genuine but the revelations involving the past of Hurt's character are simply inconsistent with what we know about him in the present. And poor Maria Bello, an actress who I usually love, is turned into the worst kind of cliché – a flashback plot device. Hurt finds honesty in a few moments but it's through his eyes or his slouched stature not his dialogue, while Stewart proves she's far more talented when she leaves the Twilight franchise behind. Still, neither actor can do nearly enough to make The Yellow Handkerchief's long journey from production to theaters worth anyone's time.
Rating: TWO BONES
Release Date: March 12th, 2010
Starring: Willam Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne, and Maria Bello
Director: Udayan Prassad
Writer: Eddie Dignam