Simple Men (1992): Hal Hartley’s Tale of Two Brothers, Played by Robert Burke and William Sage

In “Simple Men,” two brothers, one criminal, the other intellectual, hit the road looking for their father, a former Dodger shortstop turned anarchist who’s been living underground for 20 years.

“Simple Men” features, as director Hal Hartley has said, “extreme factions of America that are not idealized but stylized.”

Bill (Robert Burke), the older brother, is a robber-mechanic, an amalgam between an 1980s Reaganomics overachiever and a thug, whereas Dennis (William Sage) is a contemplative scientist-philosopher. Bill defines the world as he moves through it; Dennis questions it.

In all of his films, Hartley delineates troubled relationships; life for Hartley is dominated by crisis and desire. Nominally, “Simple Men” is about two brothers’ quest for their father terrorist, but on a deeper level, the film is about the way men relate to women. Asked to describe Simple Men, Hartley said: “It’s about a man who tries to hate women. It’s about his inexperienced brother, who feels he will lack an identity until he confronts the truth about his father. It’s about their father who subscribes to a justice that cannot be codified. And it’s about a woman who refuses to lie. In all, it’s a romance with an attitude problem.”

After a betrayal by his sexy girlfriend during a computer heist, Bill tells Dennis that “the first good-looking blond woman I see, I’m gonna make her fall in love with me and then I’m gonna fuck her.” But when he meets Kate (Karen Sillas), a mature bar owner, he is forced to reexamine his misogynist attitude and regard women as more than just objects. When they visit the site of a burned house, Bill steals a kiss and Kate slaps him. Later, in a similar gesture, quite symmetrically, Dennis is slugged in the head by Elina (Elina Lowensohn), a Rumanian friend of their father’s.

In addressing men’s inhumanity to women, Hartley reveal gentlemanliness, the conscience of a New Man without the phony rhetoric.