The Unbelievable Truth

The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Robert Burke, Adrienne Shelley
Extras: Hal Hartley Interview, Theatrical Trailer

I had heard the name Hal Hartley mentioned many-a-time when the subject of independent film was raised, but it wasn’t until now that I actually viewed one of his movies. ’The Unbelievable Truth’ was one of Hartley’s earliest works, and it falls squarely into the ’quirky slice-of-life’ indy-film genre.

Robert Burke (’Dust Devil’, ’RoboCop 3’) stars as Josh Hutton, a man who is returning to his hometown on Long Island, after serving time in prison for murder. The problem is that the townspeople can’t remember exactly who Josh killed and in what order. Meanwhile, Audry (Adrienne Shelley, who has to be a lost Arquette sister) is a brilliant but rebellious high school student, who refuses to attend her classes because she’s convinced that nuclear annihilation is going to take place at any moment. Josh and Audry meet in a bookstore, and Audry is able to get Josh a job at her father’s garage. There is an immediate chemistry between Josh and Audry, but because of her age and his sordid past, they are forbidden to see one another. While Josh dazzles Audry’s dad with his expertise in auto repair, Audry surprises everyone (including herself) by becoming a high-priced fashion model. This offbeat story gets even zanier as it rushes towards a conclusion where Josh and Audry’s fates must collide.

’The Unbelievable Truth’ is a very solid film, considering that it is the work of a fledgling director presumably working with a low budget. The story is very quirky, but it’s also very engaging. Everything in the film seems very normal on the surface, but there’s always something a little off-kilter lurking just beneath the surface. The rapid-fire dialogue is very clever and witty, and it reminded me very much of ’Clerks’. The only problem with ’The Unbelievable Truth’ is that I found it to be very benign. The film is neither extremely funny nor dramatic. And while I found the story interesting, if my DVD player had suddenly exploded and I hadn’t been able to finish the film, I think that I would’ve been able to go on with my life. The thing that really hurts ’The Unbelievable Truth’ is the atrocious acting. While Burke is fine, everyone else seems to be performing in a high-school play… in a large auditorium… where it’s necessary to yell.

’The Unbelievable Truth’ comes to DVD from those stalwarts of obscure cinema, Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film is presented in an anamorphic widescreen and is letterboxed at 1.85:1. The picture is sharp and clear for the most part. There is a fine grain to the film, however, and there are also some very minor noticeable flaws from the source print. The colors are rich and true, but some scenes appear to have been overlit, so there tends to be an overt brightness to certain shots. The audio on the DVD is a Dolby Digital Mono track, which delivers clear and audible dialogue, most of which emits from the center channel. The DVD contains the theatrical trailer for the film, which is letterboxed at 1.85:1. A 15-minute interview with writer/director Hal Hartley is the only other extra on the DVD. This interview is very enlightening, as Hartley discusses his films and his craft, but the first few minutes are shot WAY too close to Hartley’s face.