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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look50%
Average: 11.11%
Pretty Bad: 33.33%
Total Crap: 5.56%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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No Such Thing
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by Chris Parry

"Even a Hal Hartley misfire is still worth a $5 rental."
2 stars

I'm a firm believer that ten or twenty years down the road, film lovers will look upon the collective works of Hal Hartley with the same reverance that they bestow upon Woody Allen or Fellini or Hitchcock. Obviously between now and the time that happens there's going to have to be a Hal Hartley film created that crosses into the mainstream, earns a boatload of awards and makes some serious coin, but I honestly believe that day will come. No Such Thing, his follow-up to the cult favorite Henry Fool, is not going to be confused with a mainstream success any time soon. While this film is quirky, very funny in spots, and most definitely exhibits Hartley's trademark deliberate pacing and moody atmosphere, it also wanders off onto so many odd tangents that when it tries to be serious and thoughtful and real, you just don't believe what you're seeing. I guess that's a given when your lead character is an indestructable Icelandic monster with a drinking problem.

Sarah Polley is Beatrice, a soft-spoken emotionally detached young journalist in training trying to get over the presumed murder of her cameraman boyfriend, Jim. Poor old Jim was sent to Iceland to find a mythical monster, only for said monster to rip him and his crew to pieces. That should be where the story ends, but you see, the monster in question (Hartley regular Robert John Burke) is sick of his life, stuck out on a cold rock in an abandoned US missile silo, with only the occasional offering of booze from the terrified locals keeping his cockles warm.

So the monster uses the TV crew's abandoned equipment to make a tape of himself telling how he killed Jim and his colleagues, and that if somebody doesn't come and kill him soon, he'll have to take his rage out on the human race, one by one. When the tape arrives at the newsroom, Beatrice volunteers to go find the monster.

Now, about here my better judgement starts to kick in. Let's ignore the fact that Helen Mirren is playing the newsroom boss and that in doing so she's playing perhaps the worst role of her career. Let's just skim past the fact that her character's habit of chain smoking is pushed upon the audience to a ridiculous extent (is there a single frame of picture where Mirren is not lighting up a new smoke?), and we won't even worry about how her character is as inhuman and shallow and unbelievable as anything I've seen outside of a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

Despite all of that, I pride myself on the belief that, as a Hartley fan and a somewhat educated film viewer I can look past one awful character to find the core of the story. So let's just consider Mirren doesn't exist anymore. She's gone. Kaput. Outtathere!

Which leaves us with... why on earth does Beatrice want to go to the end of the earth to find a monster who killed her boyfriend? And why on earth does that newsroom boss who doesn't exist anymore send her out there - alone? Surely the idea is to send a cameraman to tag along, otherwise what possible outcome could she expect other than the death of her employee or a very expensive wild goose chase?

Before we even get a chance to ask this question to ourselves, Hartley sends everything on a loop de loop. See, Beatrice's plane gets diverted to Lisbon, and on the way there it crashes.

Why? So Beatrice can survive, work her way through a broken back, get cuddles from her doctor (Julie Christie), and get her head rubbed by many bystanders.

Oh yeah, on it's way to Lisbon, the plane crashed in Iceland. Don't ask me how that happened, perhaps the pilot had the compass upside down, but we're talking the complete wrong direction.

Cutting a very long story short, Hartley's film tries to put us in a world where violence is rampant, terrorism is an hourly occurence, life is cheap and the news is nothing more than entertainment. Sorry Hal, but Wolfgang Petersen would have a rough time creating this world, and he'd have a lot more budget than you did, with your Icelandic producers.

Hartley's world in this film is confused and odd for odd's sake. When Beatrice brings the monster back to New York (as you would, when you just learned he butchered your boyfriend), Beatrice essentially abandons the monster and has a lot of sex. Then she dresses up in a leather bondage suit for a TV interview. I... I'm sorry Hal, but I'm lost.

It should be said that No Such Thing is not all bad. In fact, there are some compelling scenes and false starts that will keep you watching, even though you're not sure why you'd bother. Beatrice's experience of drug-free back surgery is guaranteed to make you wince, while Robert John Burke's portrayal of the pissily sarcastic monster is a continual highlight of the film. Sadly, both of these high point seem to be incidental to what Hartley's trying to say, as they both end up going nowhere.

If Hartley wants to send us a message about the right to die, or the validity of otherwise of suicide, or that the only way to end the violence of the world is to kill ourselves, his message is muddled, confused and confusing. If he just wanted to make a movie and the Icelandic folks offered more cash than anyone else, then perhaps I get it. Either way, even for a guy who has waited three years with breathless anticipation for a new Hal Hartley movie to pore over, No Such Thing is a big let down that asks more questions of Hartley himself than it does of society.

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originally posted: 04/01/03 10:53:04
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User Comments

5/16/07 Jabbapop the monster would have done better in a sitcom. 3 stars
4/05/03 tom except for a tedious middle 20 minutes, Hartley is evolving into something incredible!! 4 stars
4/01/03 Jack Sommersby Semi-charming little oddity. Not great, but praiseworthy. 4 stars
4/01/03 Bluto McBlurt Even genius takes a day off now and then. 3 stars
9/13/02 emadnil funny, touching, &, ultimately, haunting 4 stars
4/03/02 Todd Only a fucking idiot would like this movie 1 stars
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  29-Mar-2002 (R)



Directed by
  Hal Hartley

Written by
  Hal Hartley

  Sarah Polley
  Robert John Burke
  Julie Christie
  Helen Mirren

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