Release Date:  February 26, 2010 (limited)
Rating:  PG-13 (for sexual content, some violence, language and thematic elements)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  102 min.
Director:  Udayan Prasad
Actors:  Kristen Stewart, William Hurt, Eddie Redmayne, Maria Bello, Veronica Russell, Emmanuel Cohn

Kristen Stewart is everywhere these days. The star has earned as many detractors as fans by playing Bella in the Twilight films—a franchise that stokes passions among its ardent followers. That high-profile role aside, Stewart has quietly been making a strong impression as an actress in lesser-seen films like Sean Penn's powerful Into the Wild and Greg Mattola's coming-of-age tale Adventureland.

If Stewart is an up-and-coming actress, William Hurt might be considered past his prime. The actor, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Kiss of the Spider Woman back in 1985, followed that performance with two more Oscar-nominated roles—in Children of a Lesser God and Broadcast News—in the two subsequent years. His hot streak cooled with The Doctor in 1991—his last big starring role—but he continued to work quietly throughout the 1990s, giving mostly supporting performances. A few years ago, when it seemed the actor's best work was behind him, Hurt gave a crazed, acclaimed performance as a gangster in David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, earning him another Oscar nomination.

That "comeback" role was no fluke, as proven by The Yellow Handkerchief, a small but potent story of human failing and the power of forgiveness. Although Stewart and her young male co-star Eddie Redmayne do fine with their roles in The Yellow Handkerchief, it's Hurt who walks away with the film.

The story is set in Louisiana in 2007. Martine (Stewart)—dumped by a male companion who tells her he made a mistake with her the previous night—latches on to Gordy (Redmayne), a gawky guy who has the one thing Martine needs: a car. She agrees to let Gordy drive her to another town, but Gordy's goofy personality grates on her. Uncertain that she wants to spend extensive one-on-one time with Gordy, Martine befriends Brett (Hurt), who also is trying to find a way out of town.

The three of them end up sharing a motel room, where Martine permits Gordy a quick kiss that quickly escalates into something more and leads to accusations of rape. Brett steps in to protect Martine, although he doesn't view Gordy as much of a physical threat.

Gradually the three characters open up to each other about their past troubles. Martine has issues with her father, while Gordy has been pegged as possibly suicidal. But it's Brett's situation that captivates the other two characters. He's just out of prison, having spent years behind bars for manslaughter. In flashback, we see Brett befriend May (Maria Bello, terrific as usual), become romantic with her and experience a relatively late-in-life chance at fatherhood. When things don't go as planned, May shares a secret with Brett that drives him away and ultimately leads to a confrontation that lands Brett behind bars.

Having served his time, Brett is considering a visit to May's home, but he's hesitant. It's been too long since they've communicated with each other, although May's final correspondence included instructions to Brett on how to find her, and how to know whether or not she's been waiting for him.

The plot is straight out of a Tony Orlando song, but viewers below a certain age won't know that, and viewers who can predict the story likely won't hold that against the well-performed drama. In his final moments, Hurt takes the wounded Brett into a place of complete vulnerability and tenderness. Themes of forgiveness—between Brett and May, but also between Martine and Gordy—achieve a potency that's rarely seen in theatrical films.

The Yellow Handkerchief reminds us of God's forgiveness of our sins, and his call for us to extend forgiveness to others (Matthew 6:12). It's also a poignant example of how one seasoned actor can bring out the best in his co-stars, while communicating a meaningful, truthful message about the possibility of redemption.

If you see the film, bring a handkerchief.

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