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Thursday, 01 April 2010 18:00
Local opening date: April 2, 2010
Reviewed by Diane Carson
As the story begins, Brett Hanson walks slowly but purposely out of prison, having served his six years. In short order, he ends up with two equally emotionally damaged teenagers, Martine and Gordy. On the road, Hanson reveals in sporadic, economical flashbacks his travails. Martine wants someone to care for her; enamored of Martine, Gordy knows he makes people uncomfortable but can't help himself. Director Udayan Prasad, known here primarily for his 1997 film My Son the Fanatic, relies on faces and body language to reveal character. William Hurt as Hanson more than meets the challenge in a breathtaking performance.

Having shot this film before Twilight, Kristen Stewart as Martine shows the promise she fulfills in her later Twilight series. Eddie Redmayne as Gordy so convincingly plays a southern teenager he completely covers his British Shakespearean roots. And Maria Bello shines as Hanson's past love with issues of her own. Pete Hamill's 1971 short story has been updated to post-Katrina Louisiana, so strong a presence that the landscape contributes as an evocative fifth character.

Metaphors communicate ideas in many ways. Animals are integrated into the episodes-an alligator, a runaway horse, a snake, and a buck on the road. Bridges figure several times, symbolizing hopeful movement from past tragedy to a brighter future. Red is worn only by the two women, Martine and May. And at the river, waiting for the ferry early in the film, Martine says to Brett, "Hold me 'til I get my balance and then step out of the picture." And indeed he does, having benefited in the last scenes of the film from the younger travelers' confidence just as they've become stronger and wiser from his earlier. It's a satisfying, earned reversal.

The tradition of the yellow ribbon stretches back to the Puritans in the English Civil War when they wore yellow sashes and ribbons. This changed to yellow bandanas for the U.S. cavalry in the 19th century. Yellow ribbons were popularized in the 1970s, of course, and the symbol works well throughout The Yellow Handkerchief.

Restrained, suggestive instead of histrionic, The Yellow Handkerchief is an intelligent, intense character study. Prasad puts the viewer in the car with, immersed in the thoughts and emotions of, Hanson, Gordy and Martine. The ride is illuminating and engrossing. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

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