With The Hawk Is Dying, filmmaker Julian Goldberger tries unsuccessfully to assemble a mass of unsavory elements into one motion picture. The hodgepodge is often incomprehensible, unattractive, and always impossible to believe. Most unbelievable is the fact that the wonderful, Oscar-nominated Paul Giamatti would lend his time and talent to this effort.

Animal lovers may cringe at the scenes in which a tethered hawk (or hawks, assuming there were stand-ins) frantically screams and struggles to break free of its trainer/hero's ropes. Those viewers who sit through The Hawk Is Dying may do so only to be assured by an end credit that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Based on the novel by Harry Crews, the story revolves around George (Giamatti), who, after the hawk he kept in his closet dies, is determined to train a new hawk he has trapped al fresco in his woodsy backyard. Be forewarned that we are worlds away from filmdom's cutesy tweety birds. The Hawk Is Dying provides ample proof that dead hawks and trapped hawks are not photogenic.

Nearly as unappealing are George's plump and lumpen sis Precious (Rusty Schwimmer), his mentally challenged nephew Fred (Michael Pitt in yet another role few would dare), and weird friend Betty (Michelle Williams), described by George as a doctor's daughter pretending to be white trash.

But Betty may be more. When George persuades her to help his nephew reach manhood and she and Fred become intimate, Fred mysteriously dies in his own bed.

Others in George's unpalatable satellite include Billy Bob (Robert Wisdom), his assistant at the auto-trim shop he owns, and George's mother (Ann Wedgeworth), whose white-trash cred is only surpassed by Fred's father, who is among those who show up for the young man's funeral. Strange dialogue exchanges, hand-held cinematography, and a plethora of dark scenes and ultra-tacky interiors don't help matters.

Even the title metaphor is lacking. Does the hawk symbolize obsession, survival, lust, madness, natural forces, anything? Ultimately, this inscrutable film is just an exercise in self-indulgence.