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‘Handsome Harry’ Explores Gay Issues in Military

10 Dec, 2010 By: Billy Gil

steve buscemi

Steve Buscemi is an actor who knows how to make an impression. Though he appears at the beginning of Handsome Harry, coming to DVD Dec. 28 from Screen Media Films ($24.98), the celebrated character actor’s shadow hangs heavy over the film about an aging ex-Navy man who finds his old buddies to atone for an unfortunate attack they inflicted upon their friend.

“My work is the same whether it’s one scene or many scenes,” says Buscemi, who recently has seen his profile raised even further as the lead in Martin Scorsese’s Atlantic City crime drama “Boardwalk Empire,” on HBO. “I knew it was an ensemble-type film. I like those kinds of films. Bette Gordon, who directed, is an old friend, and she was one of the directors from the East Village days of the ’80s that was doing independent film before it was labeled independent film.”

The film stars Jamey Sheridan (“Trauma,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) as Harry, a man who can’t shake a past event involving his old navy crew beating one of their own when they find out he’s gay. Buscemi stars as the friend who brings it all back when he calls Harry out of the blue, to say that he’s dying and wants to make amends. The film also stars Aidan Quinn and Campbell Scott as members of the ex-Navy crew Harry visits.

“It’s timely with the whole — hopefully — repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because a lot of the argument seems to be about the culture of the military and ‘will they be able to adapt,’” Buscemi says. “I just think at the heart of it, it’s bigotry.

“I think it’s ridiculous that gay men and women are not allowed to serve openly. I know this film doesn’t address that in an obvious way, but it does address the culture of certainly not all the military but especially back when this film takes place, that this male-dominated culture could not tolerate even a hint of homosexuality, and that to me is a pretty sad and tragic story.”

Sheridan, who also serves as a producer, says the film does have an anti-DADT message, but it also works on many other levels.

“It was, for us, a cross between film noir and Greek tragedy,” Sheridan says. “It was about a guy who has erased himself and has hidden himself from himself, and succeeded. I saw him as a man in a blackout, like a drunk can go into where they don’t even know where they’ve been or six months or two weeks. And then, slowly, the psyche comes up, with Steve Buscemi and a fateful phone call and then slowly the layers are peeled away from Harry’s eyes.

“I must say there is a part of me that wanted to speak to the gay community, but I think it was on a much deeper level than Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I wasn’t thinking that specifically. I was reaching to much deeper things I think.”

He and Gordon did commentaries for the Handsome Harry, which appear on the DVD alongside a behind-the-scenes featurette.

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