Amateur (1994)

Genres - Comedy, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy Thriller  |   Release Date - May 19, 1996 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - France , United Kingdom , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Hastings

Those expecting Hal Hartley to sell out on his first true foray outside of the drab confines of Long Island's suburbs will be pleasantly surprised to find that Amateur retains the auteur's emphasis on unconventional character pairings, only-in-the-movies plot conceits, and sardonic, self-deprecating good humor. An espionage thriller in outline only, Amateur may present a fa├žade of amnesia, pornography, and gun-running, but underneath it all is Hartley's characteristic obsession with identity, sex, religion, and redemption. This sort of hyper-philosophical character study punctuated by anti-thrills would fall flat were the performers not in line with the filmmaker's skewed universe -- as Hartley would learn with some later efforts -- but thankfully, he's found a cast precision-tuned to the absurd. Working for the first time with the director, Isabelle Huppert seems born to deliver Hartley's intentionally stilted, flat dialogue, and Hartley regular Martin Donovan may very well be the only actor who could make a man with a despicable past so believably sweet. Populating the sidelines are indie luminaries the likes of Parker Posey, Damian Young, Tim Blake Nelson, and Dwight Ewell, rounding out Hartley's most confident -- albeit subversive -- brush with mainstream success.