William Hurt does possibly the best haunted eyes in Hollywood.
His droopy eyeballs are a highlight of "The Yellow Handkerchief," a standard-issue indie drama about hitting the road with strangers in hopes of reconnecting with an intimate from your past.
Hurt infuses ex-convict Brett Hanson with deep, palpable melancholy, yet the story rides on transparent artifice and weepy sentiment that turns to goo by the end.
The movie's main appeal rests with fine performances from Hurt and co-stars Kristen Stewart, Maria Bello and Eddie Redmayne, who lend "The Yellow Handkerchief" far more weight than its meager drama merits.
Produced by Academy Awards heavyweight Arthur Cohn ("Central Station," "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"), "The Yellow Handkerchief" traces Brett's simple sojourn through post-Katrina Louisiana to reunite with lost love May (Bello).
Just out of prison after six years, Brett catches a lift with awkward teenager Martine (Stewart), who in turn has tagged along with the twitchy Gordy (Redmayne) in hopes of making another boy jealous.
Road trip becomes a mission
What begins as a short hop across the river becomes a mission for all three as Brett shares his sad life story with his traveling companions, who are transfixed by the tragedies that tore him and May apart and Brett's against-all-odds hope to give it one last chance.
Working from a short story by Pete Hamill, director Udayan Prasad ("My Son the Fanatic") and screenwriter Eric Dignam fashion a narrative that flits clumsily from the present-day road trip — during which little actually happens — and flashbacks laden with emotional resonance between Brett and May.
Hurt and Bello, who co-starred in "A History of Violence" but did not share any scenes in that film, play off each other so well that it's disappointing the flashbacks make up such a relatively small portion of "The Yellow Handkerchief."
Stewart and Redmayne form a nice bond with Hurt and each other, but their characters are thinly developed and the wisp of incipient romance swirling between them feels like filler next to Brett and May's grand passion.
Chris Menges, Oscar-winning cinematographer for "The Killing Fields" and "The Mission," provides some bleak but gorgeous images of bayou country and the detritus left by Katrina.
"The Yellow Handkerchief" has been kicking around since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival two years ago, in Stewart's pre-"Twilight" days.
It arrives now as little more than a curiosity, a featherweight tearjerker featuring a promising young actress before she had Hollywood at her feet.
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