This is one brilliant film and, like some other reviewers, I must say that it is my favorite film ever. Contrary to other reviewers, I would not dismiss the plot. The plot of two young men, one an "experienced" criminal and one an "innocent" student, searching for their "heroic" but "outlawed" father, is fundamentally mythic, in a way necessarily ironized by the beautiful paradoxes of the film's characters: the older brother's ultimate innocence in his rawness, the young brother's sophistication in his cool rationality -- perhaps most powerfully, the revelation of the father as disappointingly banal and extremely self-absorbed. (A scene near the end in which he reads aloud from a rebellious manifesto of Count Malatesta and has everyone around him repeat the words in unison brings this out in the film's most keenly satirical moment.) Every single character embodies the simultaneous pain and joy of life in an unusually poignant way -- and, by the way, Karen Sillas's performance as Kate is heartrendingly compelling in this regard.
A feature of Hartley's ingenious conception is the juxtaposition of two sharply opposing genre elements. The dialogue is stylized and beautifully rhythmic, very much in the tradition of modern stage drama -- Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepherd, John Guare. But the cinematography -- far from "washed out" as one reviewer says -- is rich, with beautiful compositions, dynamic angles, and gorgeous colors in a poignantly bare East Long Island landscape. Thus the dialogue tends toward abstract and stylized art, the cinematography toward realistic or naturalistic representation. The dialogue is "theatrical," the cinematography ... "cinematic." This tension brings out the ironies in the plot and characters, so that every aspect of this work of art corresponds to its overall theme. At every moment, the viewer is simultaneously quite absorbed in the emotional turmoil of the characters and their plot-driven pursuits, while also ironically hanging back and viewing the whole as something of a caricature of "the mythic plot" or "the telling character." It is this play of irony and emotional engagement that makes _Simple Men_ a crowning achievement of art and one that should far outlast its own time.
I should mention that performances of subordinate figures are also quite splendid, including those of the police chief, the auto mechanic's assistant, the Catholic high school girl who helps the younger brother find the address that goes with the phone number, and even the security guard at the beginning. None of these actors are named in the Editor's Review, so I don't know who they are.
I very much hope that this film will come out in DVD to help ensure the shelf life of its physical medium that its artistry deserves.