This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
angie’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
a lot better than i'd expected it to be! this movie takes the same principle of camera work as Battlefield Earth (i.e., Dutching every single shot) but w/ better results, not least bc Hartley actually knows what he's doing and why he's doing it.
despite being a sequel to Henry Fool, this film is not a sequel to Henry Fool. the previous film was about art, class, interpersonal abuse, and what makes a person or deed bad or good. this isn't. this movie uses the characters from Henry Fool, as well as the plot device of the Confessions, in drastically different ways and w/ brand new themes. the world of Henry Fool was thick, dark, grimy, filthy, diseased. the world of Fay Grim is stark, bright, clean, distressingly so.
so what is it about? well, it's a comedy-drama (in true Hartley fashion) about thriller movies. the comedy is mostly found in the transparent absurdity of its premise: what if that really awful manuscript Henry was working on in the original film was REALLY a code encrypting state secrets of several countries?? and it uses this to launch a parody and critique of thriller movies in general. the movements of various actors in the game are practically nonsensical, the middle third of the movie is intentionally confusing. but Hartley denies the typical thriller-movie payoff in the form of a good spectacle: each time some juicy action happens, it turns into an animatic of blurry shots w/ sound effects superimposed before cutting to the aftermath, thus forcing the viewer to pay more attention to what they're actually watching.
actually, i lied a bit back there. that ethical question i mentioned is a central part of Henry Fool does pop up a bit. as Fay is followed around by spies, all of whom want the manuscripts for their own purposes, and eventually meets Henry's friend, an Afghani mujahid stationed in Turkey, all of them come across alternately malevolent and sympathetic. the variety of Islamic terrorists we see are presented as ppl who genuinely believe they're taking a stand for what is necessary, if not necessarily right. so are, to an extent, the CIA, Mossad, DGSI, and FSB agents. some of them are diehard fanatics or cynical opportunists; Jeff Goldblum's Agent Fulbright seems like he just wants to help uphold a stable world order w/ America at the helm, even if he has to play dirty in order to get that way. others are merely the wrong ppl at the wrong time who get wrapped up in shit they didn't ask for; Elina Löwensohn plays a v cute example of this, a girl who loved Henry, got burned by him, and accidentally got entangled w/ a host of intelligence agencies.
ultimately, a big part of what makes this film compelling, esp. for the time it was released in, is that view of global politics. everyone wants power, and friends and enemies are cheap in that goal. America has most of the power, and it's willing to do some extremely dirty shit—it goes into detail abt Iran-Contra and American assistance to the mujahideen—in order to keep it. whole groups of mutual enemies are willing to collaborate for a bit on securing a bit of intelligence, even though they'll immediately fight amongst themselves for it once they've gotten it, as long as it doesn't fall into the hands of the public. ppl on the individual level are driven by insane, contradictory, petty desires that add up to this systemic lust for power; an internationally feared terrorist may just want to be someone's good friend, an agent who masterminds a coup may be afraid that world events not kept under his country's control will make his life harder, a double agent may feel loyal to both of the countries he pretends at serving.
which kinda mirrors the film itself. Fay is only one character among many trying to keep a sense of control over her situation, and after everything she only calms down when she realises nothing is going to get back to normal. the only control she can find is over herself, and that turns out to be good enough. maybe. it's hard to tell
"Don't think I'm inhuman. Some dirty work needs to be done. Civilisation ought to thank those of us who are willing to do it."
"Why is it when someone starts talking about 'civilisation' I hear the sound of machine guns?"