written and directed by Hal Hartley
by Bill Chambers The third, shortest, and presumably final entry in an improbable film series of seesawing returns, Hal Hartley's Ned Rifle is the religious component of a triptych that has thus far loosely tackled Art (Henry Fool) and Politics (Fay Grim). Titular Ned (Liam Aiken) is the offspring of drifter Casanova Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) and hapless Fay Grim (Parker Posey), the latter of whom begins this movie in prison as a result of Henry's antics, consigning Ned to the care of a reverend (Martin Donovan) and his family. Wanting to biblically avenge his mother, Ned follows a trail of breadcrumbs back to his deadbeat dad; yes, the film has the same basic quest premise as Fay Grim, though it takes the form of an askew It Happened One Night this time instead of another globetrotting "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" journey. Ned's interloping travelling companion is Susan (Aubrey Plaza--not a fan, but she curtails her most irritating mannerisms here, and looks dynamite), a grad student with a hidden agenda that somehow entails writing her thesis on the poetry of Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and ghost-authoring Fay's memoirs. ("Susan's brilliant, and she's a good person, but she's totally fucked-up," Simon warns Ned. He could be describing any Hal Hartley protagonist.) A God-fearing Born-again, Ned fends off what he perceives as her advances, but he bristles with jealousy once they track down Henry at a mental hospital and she becomes drawn into his father's orbit, like so many before her.