Film Review: Handsome Harry

Bette Gordon’s film is that rarity these days, an American film which deals with mature characters facing life and the choices they’ve made, possessed of uncommon intelligence and subtlety.

An authentic male weepie, with far more substance and nuance than most male-oriented films, Handsome Harry tracks the progress of Harry (Jamey Sheridan), as he fulfills the dying wish of an old Navy comrade (Steve Buscemi) and goes on a road trip, seeking out his former sailor buddies to discover the truth behind a shameful incident which has haunted them all through the years.

Director Bette Gordon is completely attuned to the intelligent, sensitively wrought screenplay by Nicholas T. Proferes, and draws strong performances from her impressive cast. Its middle-aged male characters deal with life’s curve balls as well as its gifts, each of them marked with a deep, underlying melancholy. Despite some valiant attempts to keep up and stay in touch, the world seems to have passed them by in a way that can’t be ignored, however many expensive toys and women they possess.

Sheridan, who has long been one of the most attractive, underutilized actors in the business, is wonderfully understated and moving as Harry, initially coming across as a popular, small-town Everyday Joe, but whose singular, solitary nature sets him apart. John Savage has a banked, time-bomb intensity as Peter, a real-estate mogul, whose “perfect” life dissolves when his wife (a touching Mariann Mayberry) makes a play for Harry. Equally successful Gebhardt (Titus Welliver) seems your basic golf-obsessed aging yuppie, but his paraplegic wife and born-again tendencies reveal some unsettling things, and Welliver plays him to suburbanite perfection. Aidan Quinn registers strongly as well, as a college professor whose experience has made him resolutely anti-military. Karen Young is ingratiatingly real as the hash slinger who harbors a wry yet intense attraction for the maddeningly evasive Harry.

With smoothly attractive cinematography and a tasty jazz-inflected score, Gordon also manages to pull off the difficulty of flashbacks involving younger actors playing these men in their Navy days, scenes which quietly attain a compelling whodunit force. By the time Campbell Scott appears as the victim of the men’s youthful macho brutality, you are totally in thrall to the story. Gordon beautifully ends her film with a truly haunting ambivalence, as well as a sexy wink that reads as a heartbreakingly poignant final grace note.