LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The middle-aged male psyche is on view in the pokey, jazz-infused independent film “Handsome Harry,” though its theatricality makes one wonder whether it wouldn’t have worked better onstage.
The film, which opened Friday (April 16), won’t bump any 3D blockbuster out of the multiplexes since the character study is unlikely to resonate much with mainstream aging boomers like the ones depicted here. Gay audiences are perhaps its most likely ticket buyers.
TV and film veteran Jamey Sheridan gets a rare lead role in this tale of regret and shame as the titular divorced, small-town electrician who embarks on an introspective road trip into his past. Director Bette Gordon (1983’s “Variety”) and screenwriter Nicholas T. Proferes explore the suppressed emotions reverberating from a hushed-up beating that occurred during “Handsome” Harry Sweeney’s military service.
Seemingly content, if something of a loner, Harry jokes with the regulars at the local lunch counter and is a member of a singing quartet composed of balding businessmen. But the drama really begins when old Navy pal Tom Kelley (Steve Buscemi) phones him from his hospital bed, their first contact in 30 years.
This sets off the first of several excursions (all in just a few days) up and down the Eastern seaboard after Kelley, on death’s door and guilt-ridden over the beating they and fellow seamen gave one particular sailor, David Kagan (played as an adult by Campbell Scott), begs Harry to locate the wronged man and ask for his forgiveness.
Interspersed throughout the film are flashback snippets in which we glimpse young Harry and his uniformed cohorts from the Vietnam era alternately carousing in clubs and pummeling a young Kagan.
Part psychological puzzle and part character study (there are vignettes of varying quality with Aidan Quinn, John Savage, etc., along the way), director Gordon’s exploration of masculinity may meander, but it builds to an undeniably moving denouement as Harry confronts some of the feelings he has hidden for so long. Making his entrance late in the story, Scott is affecting as the much-discussed Kagan. It’s a role that evokes memories of Scott’s landmark AIDS-themed ensemble film, Norman Rene’s “Longtime Companion,” exactly 20 years ago.
Sheridan (who also produced) is well cast as the good-looking, rugged Harry, and his performance is certainly adequate. Numerous jazz riffs by off-screen trumpeter Jumaane Smith are laid on a bit thick by music supervisor Lynn Geller and composer Anton Sanko. They, along with all those flashback glimpses, telegraph a tad too much.