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Anchor Bay presents
The Unbelievable Truth (1990)

"I'm not mixed up. I'm depressed."
- Audry (Adrienne Shelley)

Review By: Dale Dobson  
Published: April 01, 2001

Stars: Adrienne Shelley, Robert Burke
Other Stars: Christopher Cooke, Julia McNeal
Director: Hal Hartley

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for (language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:30m:14s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 013131139891
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B+B+B+ C-

DVD Review

Indie auteur Hal Hartley made his feature film directing debut with The Unbelievable Truth, starring Richard Burke as Josh Hutton, a soft-spoken ex-convict, and Adrienne Shelley as Audry Hugo, an intelligent teenager obsessed with nuclear destruction. Hutton's homecoming is complicated by gossip, rumor and hyperbole concerning his past misdeeds. Audry helps him find work as a mechanic at the auto shop owned by her father (Christopher Cooke), where he proves himself an able employee but remains something of an outsider. Audry, wrestling with difficult decisions of her own, finds herself attracted to this quiet, presumably dangerous man, even as she embarks on a successful modeling career.

Hartley's small-scale movie uses its characters and their actions to address larger issues of materialism, compromise and personal values. Hartley's dialogue is sharply written, and he finds honest humor and dignity in his characters' blue-collar lives. The film's run-down homes and struggling businesses are photographed with subtle naturalism by Michael Spiller, who acknowledges the characters' circumstances without resorting to condescension or undue glorification. Richard Burke is sensitive as Josh, who harbors a secret he is unable to articulate, and Adrienne Shelley navigates Audry's frequent mood swings successfully.

The Unbelievable Truth is not a highly polished effort—some of the characters are so obviously symbolic they fail to register as human beings, and many of the supporting performances are downright amateurish, calling Kevin Smith's Clerks to mind on more than one occasion. The film's pacing is uneven, lurching in fits and starts from one plot point to the next. And the passage of time is often hazy—events which should take weeks seem to happen in days, while some days seem to last for weeks.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is definitely something worth watching here. Perhaps it's the film's decidedly anti-Hollywood setting and style, or the script's fundamental optimism and faith in human nature. Maybe it's the laughter engendered by its truest, funniest moments, or the subtler joy of watching a talented filmmaker finding his way the first time out. The Unbelievable Truth is an uneven production, to be sure, but it's well worth checking out if you value the spirit of independent film.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents The Unbelievable Truth in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a sharp anamorphic transfer. The low-budget movie has a visibly grainy "student film" look, with muted color and harsh, spotty lighting. But the source print is clean, and the digital transfer is free of compression artifacts, edge enhancement and other common defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Unbelievable Truth retains its original monophonic audio track, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic-decoding to the center channel. Some dialogue scenes suffer from audible background noise, but words are important to director Hal Hartley's vision and are generally treated with respect and clarity. The musical score (also by Hartley) is simple, depending more on rhythm than melody; by no means does it push the boundaries of DVD audio, but it sounds crisp enough. A competent digital presentation of a simple mono soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Anchor Bay supports The Unbelievable Truth with 24 text-menu chapter stops, nicely-designed menus in the style of the film's intertitles, and the original theatrical trailer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic format with 2.0 mono audio.

A nice addition is the 15-minute Conversation with Hal Hartley featurette, created in 1997 by Eileen Anipare and Jason Wood. Hartley discusses his work at some length on-camera, with clips, stills and posters providing visual variety. The audio is rather poor during most of the interview, though it improves after the filmmakers switch to a clip-on microphone. The material is in 1.33:1 format, windowboxed within a 16:9 anamorphic frame for consistency's sake (at the cost of lower resolution).

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

The Unbelievable Truth is an interesting first film from Hal Hartley, with some sharp comic moments and a sense of humanity that help make up for some amateurish acting. Anchor Bay's DVD features a solid anamorphic transfer and an interesting conversation with the director. Recommended, but don't expect a polished Hollywood presentation.


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