THE HAWK IS DYING
Director/Screenwriter: Julian Goldberger (based on the novel by Harry Crews)
Executive Producer: Ted Hope, Corbin Day, Jeanne Levy-Hinte
Producers: Jeff Levy-Hinte, Mary Jane Skalski
Cast: Paul Giamatti, Michelle Williams, Michael Pitt, Robert Wisdom
U.S.A., 2005, 112 min.
*It is a basic human need to connect with something larger than yourself. Achieving this state of grace is an elusive goal, and oftentimes the process of making this connection doesn't look very pretty or logical. Julian Goldberger returns to Sundance (his film Trans played in the 1999 Festival) with The Hawk Is Dying, an enigmatic and emotionally potent film about one man searching for meaning in his life. George Gattling is an auto upholsterer who lives with his sister, Precious, and her mentally challenged son, Fred. Occasionally in George's life, there is sex with Betty, a 20-something pothead. But George's passion and meaning in life are training hawks, even though he has fumbled falconry and killed several birds.
One day, he and Fred catch the most magnificent red-tailed hawk he has ever seen. Nearly everyone in his life thinks he is mad for wanting to continue with falconry, but George is determined to finally tame the bird, even in the face of tragic events. Paul Giamatti's incredibly powerful performance as Gattling, an earnest man who finds himself a fish out of water in his own life, firmly holds the emotional center of this daring and confident film. Entirely original, The Hawk Is Dying is a beautiful and metaphorical film rich with genuine emotion and unexpected epiphanies.
*Summary by Shari Frilot, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
This was the first film I saw at the festival and also the biggest disapointment. I get it. Paul Giamatti can play sad-sack losers. Can we please see him play another type of role!? Though he is still the best part of this film, with great reactions and well-timed humor, but it just feels old. The pace is extremely slow, with much of the film silently observing Giamatti's character, George, and his efforts to train his hawk, a knock-over-the-head obvious symbol for George's mental and emotional well-being. I also felt that most of the other actors were wasted. Michelle Williams is a depressed local girl, Betty, who has some kind of connection with George, but there is so little time spent on her character, she just feels like another symbol. Though Michael Pitt does good work as 'Fred', there isn't enough time spent with him either. And despite talking to a few of the patrons of the screening, I couldn't figure what was going on in a silent scene between Fred and Betty. I thought it was going to be a sex scene between the two, but as they are standing in the room, Betty starts to urinate down her leg, then the scene fades to black. I got multiple opinions about what this scene means from different viewers, and I don't think that was the kind of discussion the director intended.
The film also tends to shift tone too rapidly. I'm all for a film that mixes tones, but the transitions between scenes with poignant humor and scenes with dark tragedy were too jarring for me. It feels like manipulation when the tone switches that often and that abruptly. There is also a great deal of dream sequences in the film that never really add anything to the main narrative. When George finally gets the bird to eat the meat from his palm, it is a touching scene, but I think Giamatti is the entire reason the scene is successful. His small moment of happiness and triumph over his nay-saying friends and family is a wonderful bit of acting, almost in defiance of much of the morbid screenplay.
Cinematography-wise, the film feels very gritty and real. It is all handheld cameras and a color palette dominant with browns, greens, and pasty yellows. It is a highly effective style and the locations used in Florida do give the production a unique feel. I just happened to not like that feel or the journey the story took me on.