In The Unbelievable Truth, Robert John Burke plays "Josh Hutton" – a young man whose just been released from prison after 16 years for murder. Given that he went to prison at the age of 18, he returns to the only place he knows – his hometown in Long Island where all sorts of crazy rumors and half truths have been created about him over the years. Half the town believes he’s a stone cold killer but in reality he accidentally pushed a guy down a flight of stairs while he was trying to defend himself (as the film progresses we learn its a little more complicated than that). The only thing Josh knows how to do is fix cars (a trade he picked up in prison that he's quite good at). He gets a job at an auto shop where a mutual attraction develops between him and his boss’ daughter "Audry" (Adrienne Shelly). Audry is a beautiful, detached, moody teenager less concerned with boys & clothes and more concerned with the end of the world. She’s convinced some kind of nuclear bomb will be dropped on earth one day putting an end to humanity so she doesn’t see a point in caring about the future. Her outlook on life quickly changes however when she meets Josh and falls madly in love with him. Naturally problems arise: Audry’s father doesn’t want her in a relationship with an ex-con, Josh is almost twice Audry’s age and Josh has a tough time being a living urban legend in a town where all eyes are constantly on him now that he's outta prison. Even though Josh is equally in love with Audry he turns down her advances (partially due to a deal he makes with her father) and Audry goes off to Europe to become a model. Josh soon realizes the mistake he made and now he has to try and win her back while uncovering a few things from his past that may clear his name.
Hal Hartley’s early films were important in creating a cinematic identity for Long Island during a time when indie film on the east coast was pretty much exclusively centered around New York City thanks to figures like Spike Lee & Jim Jarmusch (who Hartley was constantly compared too early on in his career). Long Island has always been considered the unofficial 6th borough of New York City and Hal Hartley plays on that connection. From the LIRR commuters in Trust to New York City’s connection to Long Island courtesy of Queens, NYC’s presence is always felt in his work (towards the end of Unbelievable Truth Audrey moves to Manhattan after becoming a successful model).
Hartley’s early work is very "Long Island" courtesy of all the supporting characters (specifically Audry's father who represents a huge chunk of people I see riding the LIRR), the accents and the film's suburban setting. From Grey Gardens to Sonny Corleone getting gunned down at the toll booth in The Godfather, Long Island had a history in film long before Hal Hartley came along, but his early films had an unspoken pride about Long Island I don't really see anywhere else. Unbelievable Truth also hints at that paranoid feeling we see more of in later films like The Book Of Life, No Such Thing, The Girl From Monday & Fay Grim which all take place in New York City. Throughout Unbelievable Truth Audry swears that she hears bombs going off somewhere in the distance yet no one else seems to hear. Watching Hartley’s later work with more attention I go back to elements of his first film and look at Audry’s paranoia as a metaphor for a future attack on New York City which, as we all know, is right outside of Long Island. If you refer back to my write-up of No Such Thing you’ll get that Hartley’s films are sometimes a look in to the future. Was there a feeling that Hartley and all new yorkers had in their gut about some eventual threat to the city? Sure I’m reaching quite a bit but there’s still an eerie connection between Hartley’s work and the state of the real world we live in today.
A couple of years ago I moved to St. Albans Queens just outside of Long Island where I rode the LIRR for two years and I got in to another phase where this was once again on heavy rotation As I've already stated in previous write-ups, I have a thing about relating real life stuff to movie-related things (see my kidneys on film). Given that I'm such a cinephile, Hal Hartley is genuinely the first thing that comes to mind when I hear Long Island (well, him & De La Soul).