I’ve always enjoyed stories about people with mysterious and complicated pasts that they can’t escape. For one thing, these kinds of characters are inherently compelling, because they have clear goals and clear flaws to overcome. Characters with something to atone for and something to regret also come with a certain degree of built-in complexity, and you just don’t get that with a lot of mainstream Hollywood protagonists.
Handsome Harry, our protagonist with a dark and troubled history, is not the protagonist of a feel-good movie. He is the sort of protagonist that will make anyone in the audience think about what they would do in an equivalent situation. Many people just try to move on after making a terrible mistake or committing a betrayal. However, as this movie demonstrates, when people try to bury emotions like these, they will inevitably manage to express those emotions in other ways.
People can’t simply get over personal tragedies without working through them. Handsome Harry keeps pushing people away in one way or another. As his nickname suggests, he’s the sort of person who could have been the Golden Boy protagonist that a lot of Hollywood films want us all to admire. However, a betrayal that he committed in his past has stayed with him for decades, and it has more or less determined the course of his life ever since.
Stories that are all about the horrors of war have always appealed to me as well. The Vietnam War, which is the subject of this movie, is not really the sort of war that a lot of people have idealized, at least not compared to many other wars in history. Still, I think it’s important to keep showing nuanced portrayals of warfare and soldiers in general.
Naturally, a movie can’t just have interesting content. It has to execute the premise well, and I think Handsome Harry did a fantastic job with that. It’s hard to go wrong when your cast includes Steve Buscemi, Jamey Sheridan, and Aidan Quinn. The plotting is also great, which is why the climax at the end is so utterly powerful, and one of the most emotionally involving that I’ve ever seen.
Most of the criticisms of the film that I’ve seen have been directed at the film’s low budget and the fact that they therefore couldn’t stage scenes in the manner of a big-budget Hollywood film. Personally, I care more about the storytelling aspects of a film. Film might be a visual medium, but I don’t think of a movie the same way that I think of a painting. With a painting, the visual quality and the technical skill that went into it is what’s important. With a movie, the story and the acting are the most important characteristics. Handsome Harry is a movie that emphasized the story and the acting, which is why it is one of my all-time favorite movies.