Robert Redford

All Is Lost (2013, J.C. Chandor)

All Is Lost is the harrowing tale of an unnamed man (Robert Redford) on his damaged yacht in the Indian Ocean. The film runs 106 minutes. It’s harrowing for all of them. Director Chandor knows how to harrow.

The film has a mundane reality about it. Redford has no back story, no character development, almost no “character” at all. The film opens with a mildly damaging voiceover from Redford; he’s doing a combination apology and goodbye. There’s no indication of who he’s addressing–wife, child, maybe he’s a CEO who sailed off on his yacht after Bernie Madoffing, it doesn’t matter. All Is Lost is about Redford’s struggle during a constantly harrowing experience, with failure more and more certain with each passing moment.

But the opening voiceover informs how the viewer perceives Redford and his actions. Well, except when Chandor’s just dirt cheap about it. Redford risks his life (more than usual) to save a package, opens to reveal a gift, then takes a long pause to consider whether he wants to read the note. Chandor dangles revelation and rescue in front of the viewer throughout. But Redford can’t see it, because then he couldn’t be stoic. And Redford’s stoicism is impressive.

Anyway, one damage is how the voiceover affects viewer interpretation of Redford’s behavior. He has maybe six lines of dialogue after his opening voiceover; five of them are on the radio and the sixth is a single word. The other damage is how that opening voiceover fits into the narrative. Voicever, film title card, then a title card setting the film back eight days. Presumably, Redford’s not going to make the recording for eight days. So what’s going to happen in between?

Lots of harrowing boating things, starting with Redford’s yacht colliding with a shipping container while Redford’s asleep below deck. Bad things frequently happen in the film when Redford’s asleep. He’s either a heavy sleeper or a slow waker.

Once the shipping container situation is resolved, which takes most of the “first act,” other disasters befall Redford and he has to try to figure his way out of them. Chandor does a fantastic job making Redford’s actions make sense. Redford’s not talking, most viewers aren’t going to understand his seamanship activites. Chandor’s juggling quite a bit. Redford’s strong performance makes it all work. While Chandor’s composition is good–though occasionally too fixated on the pretty–and Pete Beaudreau’s editing is phenomenal, Redford’s bringing the humanity. He never voices his fears or anything else, which is frustrating since the opening voiceover is very talky; Redford’s just doing it with his psychical perfomance, his expressions, how he moves around the yacht interiors and exteriors.

Going into the second act, the film downshifts. Summary storytelling is over for a while. Redford’s broken yacht is about to get hit by a huge storm. Is he going to survive? Is something else going to go terribly wrong?

And it does. And then something else. And something else. Redford’s sprinting through a micro-disaster movie (which actually might best describe All Is Lost), which changes the pace of the film quite a bit. Then Chandor changes it again around halfway through.

Redford can weather a lot of the pacing issues. Only because the film asks so little of him after a certain point. The more difficult Redford’s reality becomes, the more Chandor pulls away, only to dangle the narrative red herring again. But the movie’s in a far different place and Chandor and Redford have already had some successes. Red herrings can’t bring it home.

Though the herring is so well-prepared, it ends up righting the yacht enough to recover a bit.

Good music from Alex Ebert. Frank G. DeMarco’s photography is fine. The film goes for realism most of the time and DeMarco delivers it. Beaudreau’s editing is the technical standout.

All Is Lost has a great performance from Robert Redford. He just can’t save the ship–Chandor’s style and narrative clash throughout the film, without ever sustaining the right rhythm.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor; director of photography, Frank G. DeMarco; edited by Pete Beaudreau; music by Alex Ebert; production designer, John Goldsmith; produced by Neal Dodson, Anna Gerb, Justin Nappi, and Teddy Schwarzman; released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.

Starring Robert Redford.


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid opens with a sepia-toned silent film newsreel. It’s exposition, but also contrast. The silent images of a daring train robbery distract from reading the film’s accompanying opening titles. When the film itself starts, it’s just as sepia-toned. Only it’s Conrad Hall and he’s able to suggest the lush, denied colors. Director Hill isn’t just making a Western, he’s making a comment on the genre itself. Not just him, of course, writer William Goldman’s asking some of the same questions about how the genre works. Butch Cassidy forces the audience to question the setting, not embrace it. It’s a hostile place, even when it can appear gentle, even when it can be funny. The first hour of the film, features Paul Newman and Robert Redford in something very close to constant sequence. Each scene comes soon after the other. And then it turns into a chase. A long chase. It’s exhausting. And great. Because Hall has got the color in. Once the characters are established, the color returns. But then it goes away again.

I don’t want to think too much about where the act breaks are in Butch Cassidy, but there’s definitely a big chance once it becomes clear no matter how much charm Newman and Redford have, it’s not going to end well. One of the supporting players even comments on it. The film has a very strange, very distinct approach to the supporting players. The supporting players should feel episodically placed but they don’t. They’re sprinkled throughout the film, but Goldman and Hill use them for very specific tasks. One reveals one thing, one comments on another. Goldman’s script is phenomenal.

Then the film changes. And the color goes away. Newman, Redford and Ross go to New York. It’s like 1906 or 1907 and it’s all silent, all in still picture montage. Most of Butch Cassidy doesn’t have music. Burt Bacharach’s score alternates between effervescent and melancholy. Most of the film is sound effects. The sound design is gorgeous, just as gorgeous as Hall’s photography, just as gorgeous as John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer’s editing. Hill’s got a great crew and he gets great work from them. The montage sequence furthers the story, furthers the relationships of the characters. It’s a great device and completely out of place with everything before it in the film. Then the sepia reminds of the opening titles and it’s Hill pulling the audience back a little bit, redirecting their attention. The rest of the film, once Newman, Redford and Ross get to Bolivia, has to be watched differently; it’s certainly written differently, paced differently, even acted differently.

Redford and Newman. Goldman very carefully introduces their friendship, getting the audience invested in it. The performances are great too–ambitious but playful; Redford and Newman’s banter never gets overpowering. It never overwhelms the film or the actors. Hill’s real careful about how he directs them and how they’re edited. Newman and Redford are very close, in frame and physicality, until Ross is around all the time. Only then does Hill open up and show the characters from one another’s perspective. Until that point–over halfway through the film–they’re a unit.

Those singularly placed supporting players–Jeff Corey, George Furth, Kenneth Mars, Strother Martin among a couple others–are all fantastic. Especially Corey and Martin. And Furth and Mars. Oh, and Timothy Scott.

There’s so much to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s so well-made, anything could become a tangent. Hill starts out directing this fantastic Western only to change it up with this montage and then the Bolivia scenes. It’s awesome work from Hill. You just want to talk about it. You just want to show it to people so you can talk about it more, think about it more, appreciate it more. It’s that special kind of awesome.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; written by William Goldman; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer; music by Burt Bacharach; produced by John Foreman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe), Strother Martin (Percy Garris), Kenneth Mars (Marshal) and George Furth (Woodcock).


Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford)

Two really big things to talk about with Ordinary People. The technical filmmaking–John Bailey’s beautiful, muted photography, Jeff Kanew’s actually peerless editing, Redford’s direction in general–and then Timothy Hutton’s performance, his place in the film, Redford’s direction of Hutton in particular. I just as easily could’ve included the treatment of Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore as Hutton’s parents in that list, but Ordinary People is a lot to talk about, a lot to think about and my ambitions are realistic here.

To start–Bailey’s photography, because it has the least to do with how the film needles the viewer. It’s gentle, but always realistic. Bailey’s very careful about the depth, the reality of the locations and how the characters interact with them. When Bailey does break–for a flashback, for instance–the reality has to break a little too. In some ways, the stylized flashbacks are more realistic because they’re from a character’s perspective. The rest of the film is objectively presented, with Bailey’s gently lush photography a comfort.

Redford needs the viewer comfortable, because he wants the viewer to pay attention. To think. There are no explosive scenes in Ordinary People. There are noisy scenes, but it’s not about the noise, it’s not even about how things get noisy. The noisy scenes are about what that noise does to people. But there are maybe three or four noisy scenes in the film. The rest of the time–most of the run time–Redford and editor Kanew are priming the viewer to pay attention.

Ordinary People changes gears in the third act, widening its ambitions. What starts as Hutton’s story becomes much bigger as Hutton is able to emerge from his shell. Hutton gives an exceptional performance, but Redford directs one too. Hutton is both the subject–how characters look at him instructs the viewer how to consider him–and the viewer’s entry into the film, always simultaneously. At the same time, the film isn’t reductive. It’s not a seventeen year-old’s look at his troubled family. It’s often about a seventeen year-old looking at his troubled family, but it’s about a lot more. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent deftly moves between plot lines. The film has this simple narrative structure; Sargent and Redford set it up, trust the viewer to remember it, move on with the film. Redford wants the viewer to get it. They make it brilliantly simple.

Great performances from all the main actors (Hutton, Sutherland, Moore, Judd Hirsch as Hutton’s therapist). Hirsch has the smallest part, but his contributions are essential. Much like Bailey’s photography, Hirsch–tied entirely to one setting–provides a comfort to the viewer, a familiar. Moore has the film’s most difficult role. Sutherland has some amazing moments. Very strong supporting turn from Elizabeth McGovern as Hutton’s love interest. M. Emmet Walsh is a complete asshole as Hutton’s coach, which is a compliment.

Anyway, Ordinary People is a masterpiece.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the novel by Judith Guest; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Jeff Kanew; produced by Ronald L. Schwary; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Timothy Hutton (Conrad), Donald Sutherland (Calvin), Mary Tyler Moore (Beth), Judd Hirsch (Berger), Elizabeth McGovern (Jeannine), Dinah Manoff (Karen), James Sikking (Ray), Fredric Lehne (Lazenby) and M. Emmet Walsh (Salan).


Quiz Show (1994, Robert Redford)

Quiz Show is a story about pride and envy. The film’s main plot is about the quiz show scandals in the fifties–big media taking the American public for a ride–and I suppose it could be seen as a loss of innocence thing. But it isn’t.

It’s about pride and envy.

John Turturro’s working class Jewish guy doesn’t have much pride (though he’s gloriously proud of it) and he’s got lots of envy. But not so much for the WASPs, but for more successful Jewish guys. So Rob Morrow’s middle class Jewish guy. Morrow’s character has pride and envy; in this case, it’s envy for the WASPs. Like Ralph Fiennes, who’s got not so much pride but envy. In his case, it’s for his dad–Paul Scofield in a wonderful performance.

There’s a lot about class, there’s a lot about masculinity (the women get what’s going on and try to get their husbands to recognize it to disappointment), there’s a lot about the time period. And screenwriter Paul Attanasio brings it all together beautifully. Quiz Show has an incredibly complex structure, something director Redford and editor Stu Linder fully embrace. Even in its stillest moments, the film is always in motion.

Gorgeous Michael Ballhaus photography too.

The leads–Turturro, Morrow and Fiennes–are all excellent. Nice support from David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Allan Rich. Ditto Johann Carlo and Mira Sorvino. Redford’s use of prominent actors and filmmakers in cameo roles works great.

Quiz Show is a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; screenplay by Paul Attanasio, based on a book by Richard N. Goodwin; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Stu Linder; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jon Hutman; produced by Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, Michael Nozik and Redford; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring John Turturro (Herbie Stempel), Rob Morrow (Dick Goodwin), Ralph Fiennes (Charles Van Doren), David Paymer (Dan Enright), Christopher McDonald (Jack Barry), Elizabeth Wilson (Dorothy Van Doren), Paul Scofield (Mark Van Doren), Hank Azaria (Albert Freedman), Mira Sorvino (Sandra Goodwin), Johann Carlo (Toby Stempel) and Allan Rich (Robert Kintner).


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn’t add up to much. Those fine scenes don’t have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans’s second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film’s only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don’t really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson’s are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don’t have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn’t chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film’s already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It’s too bad though, it should’ve been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


The Sting (1973, George Roy Hill)

There are two immediate peculiar things about The Sting. The opening credits introduce the cast with scenes from the film, so one watches the picture waiting for a particular actor to come up. While it might have been done to get Paul Newman’s face onscreen sooner (he takes about fifteen minutes or more to appear), it also encourages the viewer not to get too involved with the picture. To remember it’s just a movie.

Second is the sections having title cards. It too breaks the viewer from the film’s internal reality for a few moments. Very interesting choices.

The reality of the film is startling. Director Hill and cinematographer Robert Surtees magically recreate thirties Chicago. And they know it. The shot zooming out from Dimitra Arliss’s bedroom window to the apartment across the street? They knew they were doing something fantastic. It’s the showiest shot in the film but it fits perfectly with the tone. But technically, it’s astoundingly good.

There are some great twists, all throughout, but the performances of David S. Ward’s character moments are why the film exceeds. Robert Redford’s desperate, touching, exasperated and wonderful. Newman’s a great sidekick (even if he is top-billed). Robert Shaw’s amazing.

Other outstanding performances are Arliss, Charles Durning, Ray Walston… and everyone else. Eileen Brennan’s sort of barely in it, but her presence is felt throughout.

The Sting moves fast–Hill only slows down just before the finale; he never lets it get frantic.

The Sting’s a masterpiece… simply magnificent.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Roy Hill; written by David S. Ward; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by William Reynolds; produced by Tony Bill, Michael Phillips and Julia Phillips; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Newman (Henry Gondorff), Robert Redford (Johnny Hooker), Robert Shaw (Doyle Lonnegan), Charles Durning (Lt. Wm. Snyder), Ray Walston (J.J. Singleton), Eileen Brennan (Billie), Harold Gould (Kid Twist), John Heffernan (Eddie Niles), Dana Elcar (F.B.I. Agent Polk), Jack Kehoe (Erie Kid), Dimitra Arliss (Loretta), Robert Earl Jones (Luther Coleman), James Sloyan (Mottola) and Charles Dierkop (Floyd the bodyguard).

Three Days of the Condor (1975, Sydney Pollack)

The espionage genre has gotten so stupid over the last couple decades, it’s hard to even imagine how a mediocre entry could be good. Now, it’s watching the least worst. Three Days of the Condor is such a peculiar film, even though it’s wholly commercial–I mean, Dino De Laurentiis produced it.

It’s not just a spy thriller (it’s also an urban, domestic spy thriller and one of the best New York films in Panavision), there’s the entire thing with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. It’s not a romance, it’s not a friendship, it’s not a companionship… it’s a thing. In the vernacular of twenty-first century American filmmaking, it’s probably unintelligible, because their chemistry has so much to do with it being the two of them, the two icons. There aren’t film icons in the same way, certainly not ones like Redford and Dunaway were in 1975.

So there are these wonderful scenes with the two of them talking. Not getting to know each other, but talking to each other.

Then there are the spy thriller scenes. It’s amazing how well Redford plays a smart guy. It’s sort of against type.

Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow (especially von Sydow) and John Houseman are all excellent in supporting roles. Houseman, of course, just has to talk.

Pollack’s Panavision direction is great. There’s some lovely editing from Don Guidice.

The end is problematic, if “realistic.” We spend the film waiting to find out what happens and, instead, we found out why.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel, based on a novel by James Grady; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Don Guidice; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Stanley Schneider; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Joseph Turner), Faye Dunaway (Kathy Hale), Cliff Robertson (Higgins), Max von Sydow (Joubert), John Houseman (Mr. Wabash), Addison Powell (Leonard Atwood), Walter McGinn (Sam Barber), Tina Chen (Janice) and Michael Kane (S.W. Wicks).


Lions for Lambs (2007, Robert Redford)

Hopefully, Lions for Lambs will be the most topical film ever made. Hopefully. In fifteen years, hopefully it won’t make any sense. It probably will.

As a dramatic narrative, it’s pretty limp. Most of the scenes with the big three are dialogue scenes, written by someone not incompetent but without much gift for it. It’s a play from a non-playwright. As a singularly directed play, the film would make sense. As a film, it really doesn’t. It might be Redford’s direction, which suffers from bad editing (Joe Hutshing does a terrible job with the back and forth, each edit more jarring than the last), but it might also be the lack of distinction. Had Redford done something crazy–something von Trier crazy–it might have worked. Because there’s nothing to Lions for Lambs if one tells it straight. It’s three stories–professor Redford talking to a student (basically about not sitting idly by while Britney Spears passes for news), GOP senator Tom Cruise trying to sell a new Afghanistan strategy to a cable news exec–sorry, reporter–Meryl Streep, and that strategy failing two of Redford’s former students, Michael Peña and Derek Luke on the ground.

The film opens with a broad, forceful propagandist hammer. It’s the kind of thing they should have gotten Noam Chomsky to consult on… if Noam Chomsky consulted on movies and if the producers had an iota of forethought. It slowly and carefully reveals layers and inconsistencies… Army Lieutenant Colonel Peter Berg might believe calculated lies about Iran but he does care about his troops. Berg’s acting in the film, watching Peña and Luke under fire is fantastic–a performance I never thought he’d be capable of performing.

There is a lot of good acting in the film. Streep’s solid, of course. Cruise’s performance will probably go forever unnoticed, but it’s phenomenal. It should have gotten more notice–and would have if only the film had some better direction. Both Peña and Luke are good as well, with Peña turning in yet another of his character performance as lead auditions.

Redford’s pretty lame, but most of the problem is with his “acting” collaborator. Whoever casted Andrew Garfield committed almost as great a film crime as whoever kept Mark Isham’s lousy score. Garfield’s real, real, real bad. His dialogue’s bad too, but his delivery is incompetent. He couldn’t sell teen hair products.

The cast is small, there are only a handful of settings… it should have been a play. A play can be topical and still be a phenomenon. A film has to account for some of the time spent–the time spent making it, the time spent watching it. Lions for Lambs feels like screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan got pissed while watching some bullshit CNN newscast, wrote an easy ninety-minute movie (turning Peña and Luke’s story into an entire feature would have been work) and just happened to be in the right place at the right time (Cruise taking over United Artists) to get it made.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Redford; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Joe Hutshing; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Redford, Carnahan, Andrew Hauptman and Tracy Falco; released by United Artists.

Starring Robert Redford (Professor Stephen Malley), Meryl Streep (Janine Roth), Tom Cruise (Senator Jasper Irving), Michael Peña (Ernest Rodriguez), Andrew Garfield (Todd Hayes), Peter Berg (Lieutenant Colonel Falco), Kevin Dunn (ANX Editor) and Derek Luke (Arian Finch).


The Natural (1984, Barry Levinson), the director’s cut

The Natural is a strange one. It’s a cheap success. The story is incredibly simple–you have the golden-haired hero and the evil monster who lives in the dark–and looking for anything more will leave one wanting. Even though the film taps into the baseball mythos, it’s superficial. The Natural is the superhero movie Robert Redford never made… there’s no question of his morality, his loyalty, his ability. Watching the movie is about enjoying what the movie does. The scenes of Redford knocking the ball out of the park aren’t supposed to come as surprises, they’re supposed to be Hollywood magic. And for the most part, they are.

For his second feature, Barry Levinson is perfect–just like his first–capturing the film’s era. He’s not so perfect at capturing or creating the wonderment. There are some problems. The biggest is the opening, with Redford playing twenty at fifty (or forty-nine)–only two years younger than co-star Wilford Brimley–while Redford playing thirty-six is digestible (he has had a bullet in his stomach for sixteen years), the opening flashbacks are distracting and might have done better just as voiceovers. But Levinson also isn’t able to direct those scenes, the mythic scenes. He lacks the visual imagination for it. Levinson is, always–no matter how much gloss he puts on it–a realistic director and mythic scenes are beyond him here. Randy Newman’s score doesn’t help in these scenes either and really should. Newman’s score is half perfect and half off. It’s good throughout, but he’s supposed to be whacking the viewer in the ears, filling he or she with a double serving of wonderment, richer than any cheesecake. And he comes close enough to show he could have, but doesn’t.

Some of those problems–the Newman score–suggest the filmmakers were going for something a little deeper. There are certainly suggestions of it. The scene where, when talking about his father, all Redford can say is, “I love baseball,” or the scenes with Glenn Close. In some ways, the most ambitious–as a real film–The Natural gets is when it’s deliberating on these two people picking up with each other after so long. It’s great stuff, it just doesn’t pay off in the end. What pays off in the end is sparkling rain and the hero victorious.

All the performances are good (except, obviously, Michael Madsen). Redford in particular, though Brimley and Richard Farnsworth are both excellent as well. As the nefarious villains, Robert Prosky, Darren McGavin and Kim Basinger show why being campy isn’t always a bad thing. Robert Duvall is a little disappointing too, I guess, playing a far too two-dimensional character. Close manages to play a grown-up dream girl, which was probably either a lot easier or a lot harder than it looks.

The film’s a little too clean, a little too long in places and a little too short in others, but when it works it works beautifully.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Levinson; screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on the novel by Bernard Malamud; director of photography, Caleb Deschanel; edited by Stu Linder and Christopher Holmes; music by Randy Newman; production designers, Mel Bourne and Angelo P. Graham; produced by Mark Johnson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Roy Hobbs), Robert Duvall (Max Mercy), Glenn Close (Iris Gaines), Kim Basinger (Memo Paris), Wilford Brimley (Pop Fisher), Barbara Hershey (Harriet Bird), Robert Prosky (The Judge), Darren McGavin (Gus Sands), Richard Farnsworth (Red Blow), Joe Don Baker (The Whammer), John Finnegan (Sam Simpson), Alan Fudge (Ed Hobbs), Paul Sullivan Jr. (Young Roy), Rachel Hall (Young Iris), Robert Rich III (Ted Hobbs), Michael Madsen (Bartholomew ‘Bump’ Bailey), Jon Van Ness (John Olsen), Mickey Treanor (Doc Dizzy) and George Wilkosz (Bobby Savoy).


Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969, Abraham Polonsky)

Is that the one where Katharine Ross plays an Indian?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Tell Them Willie Boy is Here starts incredibly strong. It gives a real sense of building towards something, but when that something arrives–Robert Blake and Katharine Ross on the run from a posse–it’s handled so poorly, the film falls apart. Maybe it doesn’t fall apart, maybe it just ceases to be good and interesting. The relationship between Blake and Ross, which started as interesting, turns into propaganda. It’s fine, it’s for a good cause, but their scenes lose all sense of importance in terms of character development, motivation… any attempt at honesty. Actually, Willie Boy starts to fall apart earlier. Polonsky cannot handle, as a director, a lot of shots. The essential scene, the crime Blake commits to have to go on the run, is incompetently shot. It’s not until later, with the Dave Grusin score going non-stop, it becomes clear Polonsky had seen The Shooting and was aping its style. It’s not even a bad job of aping, it’s just Polonsky also seemed to think he needed to ape The Shooting‘s copout, indie-friendly ending.

For the first twenty or so, everything’s good in Willie Boy, then the Blake and Ross stuff falls apart, but there’s the excellent, complicated Robert Redford and Susan Clark story going to maintain interest and actually make important observations on the human condition. Except, it’s not propaganda, so Polonsky drops it and that story is the most important–most unique–part of Willie Boy. At the end, when he has a chance to reclaim it, he instead conjures some malarky about Redford the sheriff surrounded by people who think it’s still the old days being the alter ego of Blake, the Indian wrongfully on the run. It’s a bunch of crap and it’s really unfortunate, considering Redford’s excellent work in the film. Blake is okay, but his performance is identical to Charles Bronson’s performances in the early 1960s. Almost no different really.

As a conflicted Native American schoolteacher, Ross is silly sometimes and okay sometimes. When she’s quiet–actually, besides the scenes with Clark and Redford, everything is better when it’s quiet in Willie Boy. Clark’s fantastic and she and Redford deserved a lot of better of a project to work on together.

I don’t think there’s much else to say about the film, other than it being less an incredible disappointment than an unfortunate failure. Polonsky was screenwriter and a more understanding, more capable director would have turned out a far better, far less pretentious product… almost any director, really. Redford would have done wonders.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Abraham Polonsky; screenplay by Polonsky, based on the book by Harry Lawton; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Melvin Shapiro; music by Dave Grusin; produced by Philip A. Waxman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Redford (Coop), Katharine Ross (Lola), Robert Blake (Willie Boy), Susan Clark (Dr. Elizabeth Arnold), Barry Sullivan (Ray), John Vernon (George Hacker), Charles Aidman (Benby), Charles McGaw (Sheriff Wilson), Shelly Novack (Johnny Finney) and Robert Lipton (Charlie Newcombe).


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