Amateur

Some people are never going to warm to the deadpan comic aesthetic of writer-director Hal Hartley (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men). Screw'em. For the rest of us, "Amateur" is Hartley heaven, a sharp-witted thriller that takes off into dark and uncharted territory. French actress Isabelle Huppert (Madame Bovary) is new to the Hartley world, but she's up for every curveball he throws. Huppert is delicious as Isabelle, a nun who has left her convent to write pornography. At a Manhattan greasy spoon she meets an amnesiac named Thomas, played by Hartley regular Martin Donovan in peak form. He is mystified by this self-professed nympho who admits she has never had sex. "I'm choosy," she says.

Isabelle sees a sweetness in Thomas that doesn't jibe with his real identity as a sadistic pornographer who is wanted dead by the gang bosses he robbed, the accountant partner (wild-eyed Damian Young) he betrayed and the wife (the mesmerizing Elina Lewensohn) he forced into prostitution. The extraordinary cast brings snap and surprising heart to Hartley's riffs on sex, lies and exploitation. Amateur marks another creative leap in the career of a fervently inventive original.

From The Archives Issue 417: March 15, 1984