Jen's Rating:

3.5

William hurts, Kristen stews, Maria bellows.

Who’s In It: William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne, Maria Bello, Kaori Momoi

The Basics: Close-mouthed ex-con Brett Hanson (William Hurt) has just gotten out of the clink after serving time for an unspoken crime. He hitches a ride with teenage wanderer Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) and restless small-town girl Martine (Kristen Stewart), headed to New Orleans in Gordy’s vintage convertible. As the three strangers embark on their journey along the Mississippi River, they share their insecurities and disillusionments with each other and form a tenuous bond that’s tested when Brett reveals why he was in prison and wonders if the tough cookie he left behind (Maria Bello) could ever forgive him.

What’s The Deal: On paper, everything about The Yellow Handkerchief screams “indie film,” but don’t let that deter you from giving this emotionally charged ensemble piece a chance. British-Indian director Udayan Prasad (My Son the Fanatic) manages to spin the independent movie clichés into a quietly powerful modern drama, giving his actors free reign to do what they do best against the lyrically filmed backdrop of the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged South, a setting that amplifies and echoes the emotional trauma of the film’s main characters. Filmed on location in Louisiana in 2007, The Yellow Handkerchief has taken years to make it into theaters -- during which time co-star Kristen Stewart has become a household name, enabling smaller projects like this to reach a larger audience -- but its themes of emotional scarring and rebuilding still resonate, if in a different context than was originally intended. Although he lays the visual and thematic metaphors on thick (just wait for the titular yellow hankie to pop up), Prasad’s subtle touch allows powerful performances by the entire cast to emerge, making this a must-watch actor’s showcase for fans of any of its principals.

Giving “Bad” Blake A Run For His Money: William Hurt is heartbreaking as Brett Hanson, a tough ‘n’ tattooed blue-collar laborer who struggles against his brutish nature and failings, much like the broken hero of the Oscar-nominated Jeff Bridges vehicle Crazy Heart. The disjointed narrative, split between the central road trip and Brett’s flashbacks, comes together bit by bit to paint a portrait of Brett’s tortured, tender psyche; we learn who he is through his actions in the past and present, though Hurt always has a master grip on his character. Jail, alcoholism, the crazy-aggro love of Maria Bello -- when it comes to life’s crippling disappointments, “Bad” Blake’s got nothing on this poor guy.

Things You’ll Have To Forgive In Order To Enjoy The Film: Eddie Redmayne’s frequently over-amped Gordy, whose manic behavior is given to be a byproduct of some sort of functional autism. (He's so cute and committed to the role, I forgave his Rain Man act. Mostly.) KStew’s signature hair flipping/lip biting/eye blinking, which pop up here because she shot The Yellow Handkerchief before Twilight, years before she learned to ease up on her overdone acting tics. The lackadaisical pacing, which ambles from scene to scene with the unhurried ambition of a boat floating down a river, but eventually finds its way to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

Best Cameo Appearance: The casting of Japanese actress Kaori Momoi (Sukiyaki Western Django’s “Bloody” Benten) as an apathetic motel night manager. Momoi starred in and won a Japanese Academy Award for her role in Yoji Yamada’s original 1978 Japanese film The Yellow Handkerchief (Shiawase no kiiroi hankachi), which itself was based on American author Pete Hamill’s 1971 short story “Going Home.”

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