Hal Hartley is an eccentric independent filmmaker who made a small splash a couple of years ago with "The Unbelievable Truth," in which newcomer Adrienne Shelly made an impression as a troubled teen attracted to a mysterious ex-con.
The film was marked by an odd, rapid-fire, staccato style of dialogue that made it seem like a weird cross between "Dragnet," "His Girl Friday" and a Martin Scorsese movie.
Yet, there was also something quite original about the film that gave it a life of its own, especially in its video and cable resurrection, after a limited theatrical release in some of the larger urban centers.
"The Unbelievable Truth" had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in in 1990 and this past January Hartley brought his second film, "Trust," to Park City, and won the Waldo Salt Screen-writing Award (shared with another film).
"Trust" is much like Harley's first film, with the same staccato dialogue style, again exploring odd characters in an offbeat way. This is very black comedy with the sharp edge of truth.
Shelly again stars, this time as Maria, an unwed pregnant teen whose rebelliousness sends her father into a rage and prompts her mother to kick her out. That rage also sends Maria's father into his final cardiac arrest.
Wildcat Maria eventually links up with surly Matthew (Martin Donovan), a frustrated worker in a computer factory who leaves his job in a huff and goes home to confront his abusive father. A running gag that figures in the explosive climax has Matthew carrying around a hand grenade in his pocket.
When they get together, Maria and Matthew talk about things like marriage and family, the traditional kind that neither has ever really known. And Maria repeatedly badgers Matthew about the importance of trust and whether Matthew can provide her with the kind of faith she needs in another person.
Hartley's droll, talky filmmaking style will not be to everyone's liking, of course. One of the things necessary for an appreciation of his work is the patience to allow the film's rhythms to get under your skin. He's more interested in character development than a strong, plot-driven narrative, and there is an enormous amount of dialogue spoken by his characters, though most of it is quite pointed and often very funny.
Donovan is extremely dry in his delivery and appropriately sullen and withdrawn, and Shelly once again displays a remarkable talent at giving her line-readings a twisted edge, mixing rebellious attitudes with a sense of naivete. Physically she brings to mind Rosanna Arquette, but with none of Arquette's mannered style.
"Trust" is, to be sure, every bit as eccentric as anyone familiar with "The Unbelievable Truth" might expect, and is likewise rated R for profanity and violence.