It’s rare to see a film directed by a woman who knows more about men than they themselves do. With Handsome Harry, the widely respected independent filmmaker Bette Gordon has hit a bull’s eye. The title role, played with creative sensitivity by the underrated Jamey Sheridan, is a lonely, isolated Chicago electrician—divorced, alienated from his only son and no longer sexually active—whose empty life is only occasionally brightened when he sings with a vocal group for fun. When a former Navy buddy dying of cancer (Steve Buscemi) contacts him, seeking forgiveness for himself and their old gang for something terrible they did to a fellow pal in Vietnam, Harry goes on the road to find each of them. Peter (John Savage) is an angry homophobe with a gay son whose impotence has wrecked his marriage. William (Aiden Quinn) is a college professor who has erased the ghosts of his past except for that one heinous act of cruelty. And so it goes, one confession leading to the next, until the incident is revealed in flashback—a drunken brawl in which five sailors ganged up on a gay friend, smashed his hand and left him almost for dead. The last man on Harry’s list is the victim—a former jazz pianist with a talented future whose career was destroyed in the attack. David, poignantly portrayed by Campbell Scott, has spent his life trying to understand why he was betrayed by the man he loved—who turns out to be Harry himself.
Reuniting for the first time in 32 years, David offers Harry one last chance to face the dishonesty that trapped him in a second-rate life. David taught him about real passion, introduced him to the music of Chet Baker and Miles Davis and Oscar Peterson, and changed his life. Then Harry destroyed the thing he loved but could not admit to loving. The big question—does a man like Harry have the courage to realign his priorities and start over?—is answered by the delicate writing of Nicholas Proferes and the sincere direction of Bette Gordon in a finale that is heartbreaking. Obviously influenced by the films of John Cassavetes, she does a fine job of exploring wasted lives, roads not taken and the painful realization that it takes more to make a man than a pair of fists.
Running time: 94 minutes
Written by: Nicholas T. Proferes
Directed by: Bette Gordon
Starring: Jamey Sheridan, Steve Buscemi, John Savage, Aiden Quinn, Campbell Scott
3 Eyeballs out of 4