Did I miss something?

I somehow ended up with this film on my Netflix queue. After watching it, I was astounded to see that it had a 7.4 IMDB rating. The acting was awful. Best as I can tell, it's a cheesy, low-end B movie. Am I overlooking some well hidden redeeming qualities?




I have been wondering the same thing. I watched Simple Men a few days ago, and my impression was that the dialogue was delivered without any care for a realistic flow, like Hartley's direction was: Okay, talk faster! Faster! You're a bad actor who doesn't know anything about timing or seeming real! It'll be great!

The first scene at the breakfast table in The Unbelievable Truth game me the same impression. Why does he let his actors talk so unrealistically? Does he not care? Is it on purpose? Why would anyone create such an off-putting and seemingly non-quality scene?

So why do people give his movies such a high rating? I'm not impressed.... but maybe I'm missing something?


I found it hilarious. The movie makes fun of habits and prejudices, by focusing on them. Call it 'camp'.
Didn't you like the absurd dialogues? The 'fighting'? The many views on what really happened? The 'bomb' obsession? The inbetween texts like "THEN", "SO", "LATER"?

I suppose if you miss that, this movie must be extremely boring to watch...


Usually I'm put off by artificial dialog, particularly in the case of pretentious French New Wave directors like Resnais and Godard (whom Hartley was apparently inspired by). But in the case of Hartley I enjoy it, because his artificiality has a very musical quality to it. It's not just the rhythm of the dialog, the way he move his characters is like a choreography. What also helps is that he adds a unique sense of humor to his artificial style.


the acting and dialogue are intentional. they're part of what make hal hartley movies great.


Please elaborate. Are you implying that he purposely writes bad dialogue, and purposely tells his actors to act bad, while purposely blocking the scenes in a sitcom manner? And if so, why?

I thought that might be the case after watching "Amateur." I thought it might be a really absurd experiment on irony, or something. But after watching "The Unbelievable Truth," and "Henry Fool," I now believe that Hal Hartley is just not very good. And it's not like I'm missing some deeper meaning or something. I get what he's trying to say, and in the end he does say it. He just says it very *beep*ty.

And if Hal Hartley's goal is to make things so bad it becomes good, I will never get it. What's the point? Are all Hartely's fans "Snakes on a Plane" fans too. I just can't find the point on rewarding bad things because it intentional.


Roy Lichenstein and Andy Warhol are both considred great artists because they create art that, although in-itself, appear self-aware. They use the process of art, and the art itself in order to comment on its overall theme or vision. Hartley films play with the process of film making and acting in order to comment on the film's themes. Hartley is a director whose cinematic decisions with the camera, blocking, and actors contribute to an overall aesthetic and a strong memorable voice. Although you may not like this voice, it is very hard to deny Hartley the title of a great director. He has a vision and a purpose which is successfully reached by experimenting with the processes before mentioned. You should consider which characters are usually over-acting and which ones are emotionless. How are these characters different from each other? What is Hartley trying to communicate by giving each of these characters this type of style?

It's rare a director is able to communicate philosophy, commentary, and an original aesthetic in one movie, but Hartley does so with ease and sophistication. He is a true gem and his films deserve more attention, whether or not you understand them.


Thank you for a very well thought out response, that wasn't too "you just don't get it, man" in tone. I would even agree with you that his films deserve more attention, and that he has a strong memorable voice.

I find it hard to believe that he is encouraging his actors to act badly in an attempt to be self aware of his own art, though. What does that accomplish, and what actor would even agree to do that?

I'll consider the characters that over-act, as you encourage me to do so. And I'll put myself in Hal Hartley's shoes, but still with MY onw perspective which is very different than his...I could use an actor that over-acts as a symbol of a dishonest character. The character lacks sincerity, so I'll show a performance that lacks any realistic reaction to situations. I'll show the audience *beep* because that is everything this character is about and everything that he is. And if I'm cruel, I could even not let the actor in on my motives, and just encourage him to put on a performance that would be considered bad in any other film - but not mine, because this is a concious move for the sake of art, and not just a bad performance or lazy direction. This character could even be the main character. He's in every scene, even. And, I'll even block him in very unnatural ways as to show that the world is no more real than this film. It's all an illusion, maaan. Now, what am I accomplishing by having an actor act poorly in every scene? The guy is full of *beep* The world is full of *beep* Is that it?

Now, by instead showing contradictions in a character, well acted, and well blocked, I can tell you the same exact thing. And I'm doing it without sabatoging my entire film. What makes Hal Hartley's films better than a movie that is unintentionally giving you bad acting, or bad blocking, or bad dialogue? Is it intention alone? By that reasoning, you can hate a film for 25 years for it's inferiority, run into the director at Starbucks. He tells you he's brilliant and it was all intentional and you walk home with your Mocha in hand thinking that film you hated for the past 25 years is brilliant. And if you know nothing of Hal Hartely or his intentions, and just see his art alone, could you even possibly know if the guy in inentionally or uninentionally feeding you these things? And when you do find out it's intentional should that change your opinion of the art? Shouldn't the art completely stand alone without being overshadowed by that artists intentions? I'm just finding it really hard to comprehend that a director, who uses what most great directors would consider "bad acting," "bad blocking," and "bad writing," is a "great director" simply because he does it all intentionally.

By the way, even though I passionately disagree with you, I'm not coming from a "I'm right, your wrong" perspective. I'm just finding this topic extrememly interesting, because I really really don't get it.

One final question. If Hal Hartley said tomorrow, that none of this was intentional. If you think the dialogue was unnatural, the acting was unnatural, the blocking was unnatural, that was not my intention. Is he still a brilliant director?


Perhaps I am mistaken in assuming the purpose of Hal Hartley's cinematic choices. Whether or not I'm correct in labeling his purposes as I did above, Hartley is still a brilliant director simply because he can illicit such powerful responses from a wide audience. While many people watch Hartley's film and are not interested or enchanted, a large (although maybe not "larger") percent leave a Hartley film emotionalley drained. We do not have to be conscious of Hartley's "intetions" to feel for the characters and the movie; yet this is why I think Hartley does things in his films on purpose... because as an audience member, I respond them strongly. (Especially with the films Henry Fool and The Unbelievable Truth.) Therefore, if I ran into the director you illustrated earlier at Starbucks, I would not change my mind, because if his choices did not move me or communicate anything towards me, I didn't like his film no matter the intentions. For Hartley fans, emotion does come first, and we do enjoy his films without being concious of his motives. When I watch his films, I'm not thinking as the acting as "bad" or the staging "bad", I watch it as a style. Just because it is very different from today's styles, it doesn't mean it is bad. Hartley has a definte vision, however the problem is that it contrasts greatly with much of the films (independent and mainstream) that is accesible today; however, if you look at the history of film, and even theatre, there is No "CORRECT" way to act. Actors from the 1930s and 40s act completly different than actors today. The history of theatre also proves this to be so. Absurdist plays are considered some of the most profound and greatest, for example Beckett. His actors were dead-pan and usually stood in one place for the entire time. However his plays are known as some of the most remarkable and most important theatrical works today because all of these choices gave the audience a new type of experience and feeling from art. All of Hartley's films share the same type of acting styles and blocking - therefore it makes it difficult to consider every actor he's ever worked with as Bad (although I don't think the acting is "bad"... just stylized). Hartley has a vision, it is difficult to deny that, whether or not you like it is completly up to the viewer. Yet, his vision has turned its back on many of today's typically thought of as "fundamental" qualities in "good cinema" for a purpose and vision. This is what makes him great. Like Godard ("absurd/unrealistic acting") or Beckett ("deadpan acting"), Hartley is director who challenges his audiences. One should look at the history of art, cinema, and theatre before labeling Hartley's work as unintentional. To answers your final question - yes, he would still be a great director because by communicating in such offbeat and untraditional ways (even if it is unintentional, which I highly doubt) he has been able to tap into experiences and feelings many audience members rarely experience in any type of art. This does not just go for me, but very large number of Hartley fans.


Fair enough. The "bad" vs. "it's just his style" is very interesting. But, what I see as "deficiencies" and what you see as pure "style" may be somewhere in the middle. Because a directors "deficiencies" will show up film to film. And because that happens, the "deficiencies" become part of the style. Now, should the director be rewarded for that?

In terms of the acting being correct or incorrect, I'm not talking about that. If I label something as "bad" it's not that I'm pompous enough to think it was incorrect, it just doesn't work for me. So with that being said, the performances Hartely gets out of his actors...They're not realistic, nor or they trying to be. But, they don't strike me as absurd either. They're just this middle ground of mush to me. Now, he could be trying to be subtle in the absuridity. Now, that sounds interesting. And it was interesting...When Godard did it. He did it more convincing too. I never doubted for a second what Godard was doing, yet, I doubted Hartley with each film I saw. And I think that's been my biggest problem with Hartley. He for whatever reason can't convince me. I can't trust him.

In my previous post by talking about the what if it was unintentional - I don't beleive that. Not fully, anyway. I'm just not willing to give him as much credit as you do. What you see as mostly style, I see as sometimes style. Believe me, I'm not trying to label Hartley as this hack that has fooled people into thinking he's brilliant with is flaws...I guess I see him somewhere in the middle of all of this. A interesting filmmaker that just misses. And that annoys me, because it almost works for me. I almost really liked Henry Fool. And I thought Amateur was okay but could have been great. Can we agree that he can't touch Godard, though?


Great response. I agree with you he doesn't touch Godard, but speaking strictly from "my personal" feelings towards their films; Hartley's films resonate much deeper. I still disagree that any of his films "suffer" from difficiencies. I also know he didn't make his unintentional difficiencies his stye, his style just calls for such acting and blocking. Martin Donovan often talks about his difficulty in working with Hartley because of Hartley's persistance in capturing the style. Donovan will often use too much emotion which Hartley would then critize. You can also see that Hartley does not accidentally suffer from difficiencies (that he turns into style) through his use of big text captions, the sounds of the bombs going off when Shelly yawns, the huge dollar bill over he bed, and the way everyone fights simply by shoving each other over and over.

Your argument is definetly a fair one, and I can see where you're coming from. I think it just comes down to whether or not you like this "mush" (as you said) style. But I don't think it is fair to say what he does is or was accidental. Again, even if it all was (which it isn't) he would still be a great director for getting such strong and unique responses from an audience. I'm just glad Hartley's films exist, juxtaposing themselves against most "indie" cinema today as something entirely different.

I mut admit Hartley fans probably pride themselves over enjoying something so esoteric, even for most "indie film fans". Yet, we don't like his movies simply because their different, it just creates more passion for defending them.

I enjoyed the discusion and can easily see where you're coming from in your criticism.


I'm just glad Hartley's films exist, juxtaposing themselves against most "indie" cinema today as something entirely different.
Me too. I respect anything different.

I actually enjoyed talking about his films much more than actually viewing them; but I suppose that's art for you.

And because I've seen and almost enjoyed Henry Fool,I will be checking out Faye Grim when it's released. Kind of a last ditch effort on my part. And who knows, perhaps I can enjoy my first Hartley film now that I'm sort of "in" on the esoterica.

One thing I have enjoyed when it comes to Hartley's work. This shot alone.

Thanks for the discussion.


I enjoyed reading your discussion. And I love the shot...what is it from?


And I love the shot...what is it from?

Hartley's Amateur

It's a great shot.


Wow. This is truly one of the most civilized exchanges I have ever seen on the imdb.com board (between Peter Steele and “zdorn”) You guys disagree on some points, but are clearly each open to the other’s view and each willing to learn from the other. I found it a pleasure to read.

I watched Unbelievable Truth several times years ago. Then I kind of moved on and forgot about it. When “Waitress” came out, along with the news of Adrienne Shelley’'s unfortunate death, I felt moved in a strange way to revisit Unbelievable Truth. So I dug up an old VHS copy.

My opinion then as well as now is somewhere in between the two of yours. It'’s one of those movies that in my objective reasoning seem to be missing some important marks of quality that I usually require. But for some reason I'’m not sure I fathom myself, I find the movie highly enjoyable. Could it be that my sub-conscious responds to some quality present in the movie that my rational intellect hash’'t yet perceived?

I hate to sound like Joe Q. Mainstream-Movie-Watcher, the kind of guy who goes into a video store and heads straight to the “new release” section in hopes of finding a movie he hash’'t consumed yet. (Most people don’'t truly experience a film; it’s just an item they consume.) But I have to say, my primary criticism of Unbelievable Truth is that by the time the movie is over, I’m not sure that the movie was really saying anything, i.e. the plot just doesn’'t seem to add up to much.

That being said, however, there are parts of the movie where the combination of music, sound, and visual shots just strikes me as beautiful in a strange way. I love the quirkiness. I like the fact that this does not feel like a formulaic predictable Hollywood film. But are those characteristics enough to make it a good film? Okay, so it'’s not predictable commercial fare. But if it'’s not that, what is it exactly? Sure, it'’s “neat” that you have this teen-age girl who happens to be obsessed with nuclear meltdown and is a fan of George Washington. It'’s “neat” that you have a convicted murderer who not only seems like a nice guy, but has some sort of Zen-like quality about him and is often mistaken for "a “priest or something”". But does this all mean anything that could be explained in coherent logical sentences? Or does it all just sound quirky and “cool and that'’s all there is it to it? Like Peter Steele, I wonder if the emperor doesn’t have any clothes on, although on an immediate gut level I like and enjoy the movie better than it sounds like he did.

This is actually the only Hal Hartley film I have ever seen. But I find his style intriguing. I really want to see Trust and Henry Fool and Simple Men, etc. (Though my local area is not exactly a haven for indie videos, so I might have to scrape around on eBay to get them.)

I like your suggestion of seeing each if his films in the context of others. So in time we’ll see!


I loved this film. I remember after I watched it I couldn't admit how much I enjoyed it to the the neighbor while out for coffee because she thought it was stupid. "Nothing happened," according to her.

The thing about Hartley is the fact his dialogue was short and sweet and got to the point. Ok, maybe not sweet, but definitely had a point even if you had to think about it later. The real-life fight scenes amused me. The pushing and the shoving.

But still his dialogue almost had a Pintar feel to it. I learned a lot about dialogue when I watched this film. The rhythem is was struck me. Then it was the characters from those words that made me interested in these everyday people.

I really think this is a little gem that shouldn't be overlooked in his work.


Those are good observations, especially about the rhythm of the dialogue.

I watched Unbelievable Truth again recently. It's a great movie to relax and meditate on and enjoy late at night with the lights out. It is true that not a lot happens in the conventional plot-story sense. I can cut people some slack for not liking it for that reason.

But upon seeing it again, I have to say I can see that something of a theme emerges. It's all about trust. For some people, dealing with others is all about compromises and deals; it's only giving something if you're getting something too. But one has to transcend that. There's a point where one stops keeping score and just trusts other people unconditionally. It's appropriate that money is mentioned so much in the movie; it's the pefect vehicle for the issue of trust.

The ending was climactic in a sense. Audrey gave all her money to her dad and said all deals were off. She unburdened herself of the hindrance of material attachments, as Josh appeared to have done from the beginning of the movie. I think at the end she'd dropped her masks and had become her natural self. Maybe I'm reading way too much in, but I felt something like that.


All this talk of the movie being pointless, having no plot, etc. are exactly what elicit the biggest smiles in me. With an overblown title like "The Unbelievabel Truth", you expect a huge revelation at the end, and when Audrey finally confronts Josh about the murders, her response is, "oh." That in itself makes the movie worthwhile.

The theme of trust is a good point, too. This movie is more about trust than, well, "Trust", which may be yet another sly titular joke on Hartley's part.

I see this so-called meaningless plot less in terms of the deals people make and keep, and whether or not you can trust them, than with the love two people find and the leap of faith they are willing to make. When Audrey says at the end, "listen..." and they strain to hear bombs, they instead hear nothing. Her metaphorical Armageddon (the end of her childhood) has come, and she, and the world, have survived.

We are left with some uncertainty about the future, but, ultimately, hope.



Fetus, you're thinking way too much about this...

You call what the actors are doing in Hartley's movies as 'bad' acting?!
Thats the way Hartley WANTS them to act...
Its not BAD acting, its what they are SUPPOSED to be doing...

If you haven't noticed yet, ALL of Hartley's people act like this in all his films...

Its what i guess you can call part of his style...

If you haven't seen Surviving Desire yet, well...go RENT IT or BUY IT NOW!
The movie changed my life...i've watched it probably 100 times or more.

It seems the things you are looking for are the same things you see in every other film you've ever watched, and if you compare those things to Hartley's films its like comparing apples to oranges...i don't know how else to try to explain it to you at this time...but i'll come back if this thread is still going...


Wait, now...say what you will about the acting, but I think Hartley's dialog is great. It's thoughtful, it's funny, it's quirky, and it's unlike anyone else's. What didn't you like about it?

Death is...whimsical today.



i agree that it is overrated ..but its not as awful as u r making it out to be ..


The first Hartley movie I saw was Trust, and I loved the quirkiness of it. I felt like it added something to the film. The characters' lack of emotion added a dry sense of humor and drew focus to the dialogue itself. However, after viewing the Unbelievable Truth, I must agree that it's overdone. The fact that Hartley seems to do this for each of his films is a bit extreme.

That said, I think the movie was average. Certain aspects of it are cute and humorous. It's definitely more interesting to watch than most movies out in theaters nowadays. When the movie was finished, though, I didn't feel much emotion toward it. After I watched Trust for the first time, I remember immediately wanting to watch it again, finding it a breath of fresh air, something different. Now I think that maybe that was just because it was my first Hartley film, something new.

I gave the Unbelievable Truth 5/10 stars. Not horrible, but nothing remarkable either.


I agree about the acting, some of it was pretty good (the father) but most of them were weak, the direction wasn't too strong either. But it's not a major problem and considering how great the frames and the script are it's overall still a great film.

Somebody here has been drinking and I'm sad to say it ain't me - Allan Francis Doyle