The Unbelievable Truth (1989) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Robbins Recipe: Waiting for Godot meets Twin Peaks.
I guess you can fairly say that director Hal Hartley is the poor man's David Lynch. The stock in trade for this respected independent filmmaker is the normal old middle America undercut by a deadpan black humor and an sense of the macabre.

This was Hartley's first feature length film, and it marks a very impressive debut considering that the guy did the entire film for $75,000.


none. No idea why this is rated "r". Undoubtedly for excessive irony.
A small town is visited by a mysterious stranger clad in black. Rumor has it that he grew up there, did something bad, and was sent to prison. The rumors don't seem to agree on the details of his crimes. He killed somebody and somebody's father, or maybe his own father, or maybe he raped someone first. The owner of the local garage refers to the stranger as a "mass murderer" - just before hiring him as a mechanic, and a few months before hiring him to date his daughter! The man with the Johnny Cash wardrobe is also celibate. In fact, he's a virgin, so the dad in question sees this chaste lad as the perfect match for his gorgeous, precocious daughter.

Pretty odd stuff, but quite effective for such a low budget. The music is unusually effective, featuring only simple chords from a single instrument, but the right chords to produce the desired effect. Hartley is also a musical composer, but he's not credited for the score on this film. The visuals are also quite effective. Hartley has a gift for the unusual set-up, and seems to be able to catch just the right mood when he needs it. Come to think of it, the dialogue is quite good as well. He uses a lot of repetition, and mysterious pauses and suggestions, so the dialogue often sounds like a sort of coffee-house poetry, in the manner of Waiting for Godot.

So am I leading up to the conclusion that this is a masterpiece?

You know, it is good, but I didn't even like it very much. I stand in awe of Hartley having made such a professional film for this price tag, and I like the way his satire cuts so deep, but the strange tone wasn't relaxing for me to watch. It wasn't consistently funny enough to be a comedy, and the plot development was too minimal for a drama, so we are left with just lots and lots of post-modernist irony. Too much for my taste.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • interview with Hal Hartley

  • trailer

The film's other major weakness is that there are only two or three people in the cast who can actually act. The two stars are good, but some of the supporting players, especially the girl's dad, sound like they are acting in Peoria High School's spring production of Brigadoon. But, what the hell, how many actors can you buy for a couple thousand bucks? I guess they caught as catch could. (By the way, Edie Falco has a bit part as a waitress)

I think you'll probably like it if you are a David Lynch fan, and a lot of critics praised it. Roger Ebert went to the trouble to review it, pretty impressive by itself for a zero budget indie, but he went as far as to give it three stars. The rest of you will probably be more like me, checking the box again to see if it really said "comedy", thinking it's kinda good, but also kinda fucked up. At any rate, it's only 90 minutes long, so it doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: a hair less than three stars. Maltin 2/4, Ebert 3/4, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it a ver solid 7.3.
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash hit, but it took in a half million dollars from a few thousand dollar investment.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Not a mainstream film, but quite an interesting one.

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