Hal Hartley has always excelled at taking some peculiar, unlikely premise and turning it into a genuinely absorbing cinematic experience. With Henry Fool he explores the broad themes of ambition, influence and genius in his own, unique style and ends up with a story that is in equal parts hilarious, poetic and downright weird.
Be warned, though, that this is an epic tale which is definitely not suitable for anyone after eye-candy violence and macho heroics. But if you let yourself drift along with the languid pace then you'll be richly rewarded. The spectrum of characters is admirably broad, but the main focus is the relationship between Henry and Simon as tutor and pupil. This is Ryan's debut and he's excellent, portraying his character as a brash, depraved intellectual working on a world-shattering magnum opus. It's a very confident performance: he manages to be both charismatic and repellent with supreme ease. Urbaniak is wonder-fully taciturn in the role of protégé, and Posey is deliciously spiky as Fay, the sister unable to keep her legs closed.
While the central performances are exceptional, the actors have a fine director-penned script to work from. With Hartley also on board as producer the result is a neatly constructed story which defies the usual Hollywood app-roach to plotting and skilfully balances the serious with the absurdly comic.
This is a fascinating dissection of some heavyweight themes. Hartley's keen to convey his views on the state of US culture, but this doesn't prevent Henry Fool from being very funny. Few film-makers have such a fine degree of observation and accessibility.