Jamey Sheridan, left, and Steve Buscemi in "Handsome Harry," directed by Bette Gordon.
How does the past shape the present?
In Handsome Harry, a handful of men revisit a shameful event from their youth, finally realizing that the incident they tried to forget has always been very much present in their lives.
Jamey Sheridan is Harry Sweeney, a small-town electrician who appears to be at some sort of crossroads in his life. Harry has just had a birthday -- he mentions that his son didn't call -- and he's talking about selling his business. There's a restlessness about Harry, but maybe it's just middle-age.
He gets a call from an old navy colleague, Thomas Kelley (Steve Buscemi), who is on his deathbed. Kelley wants a favour from Harry. He wants Harry to go and find another navy friend, David Kagan, and apologize for the events of a terrible night more than 30 years ago. Kagan was beaten up by a group of his navy buddies, and in the attack his hand was crushed, ruining his future as a concert pianist. Kelley is convinced he'll go to hell if he can't win Kagan's forgiveness.
Harry goes off on a cross-country drive to meet up with each of the men involved in the incident. He meets Pete (John Savage), whose career in real estate has made him rich. Pete is otherwise impoverished, with a terrible marriage, anger issues and shame over having a gay child. His wife seduces Harry.
Next up on Harry's list from the past is Professor Porter (Aidan Quinn), who has tried to forget the violent incident with Kagan by reinventing himself as a pacifist. But his son is in the service, and he's in Iraq.
Titus Welliver plays Geb, the next person on Harry's list. The super-religious Geb has had a few knocks in life, but his attempts to lay it all at Jesus' feet haven't really worked out.
Each of the men, Harry included, has a lot of free-floating anger. Harry must also face his own demons as his journey continues, and he eventually has to learn some long-buried truths about his own role in the Kagan incident.
Then he encounters Kagan (Campbell Scott) himself.
Handsome Harry seems a bit obvious at times (and a little clunky at others) but the performances, particularly from Jamey Sheridan, will keep you watching. The story unfolds slowly, and with a clear-eyed view of male anger, fear and disappointment, but it relies at times on flashbacks that don't work all that well.
In Toronto, Handsome Harry is at the Carlton Theatre. Jamey Sheridan will host Friday night's screening and take part in a Q&A following the film.