In “The Yellow Handkerchief,” Hurt doesn’t do or say much. But he does it well. As Southern ex-con oil rigger Brett, he tells his future wife, May (Maria Bello), that he can see her whole history in her face.
The audience can see Brett’s history in his. It is one of pain and disappointment.
After a six-year stint in a Louisiana prison for manslaughter, he hitches a ride in a beat-up blue convertible with two maladjusted teenagers, Gordy (Eddie Redmayne) and Martine (Kristen Stewart), who also recently met. They’re all heading for post-Katrina New Orleans, but no one knows why. On the way, the teens learn life’s rules of the road from Brett, and they teach him the importance of love, although they only know the lack of it.
Poetry comes out of Hurt’s nearsilent performance, supported by some geeky virtuosity from Redmayne who usually plays aristocrats (“Savage Grace,” “The Other Boleyn Girl”), but is surprisingly effective as an awkward young redneck. “Twilight” starlet Stewart plays a 15-year-old on the fast track, which she conveys through her standard stock-in-trade: coyness and pensive lip-biting.
As the miles roll along, so do flashbacks about Brett and his great love. A Bayou boat saleswoman, Bello’s May brings body heat, too long absent from Hurt’s performances.
Brett’s tales of sexual intensity ignite the teens. Picking up on it, they use “Parent Trap” determination to reunite Brett and May. The result is a sweet finale, worthy of Walt Disney, but a bit out of synch for a movie meant to be hard-bitten.