Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Robert Redford”

A Walk in the Woods

You’d think that casting Robert Redford as American travel-writer-extraordinaire Bill Bryson, in an adaptation of one of his popular books, would guarantee a good film. Well, add a shambling, incoherent Nick Nolte and a woefully misused Emma Thompson, and you’d be wrong.

The first mistake is, funnily enough, casting Redford who essentially plays himself and relieves you of any possible suspension of disbelief that he’s not the bearded, avuncular Bryson. As Robert, sorry, Bill sets off on an ill-advised but plucky trek of the Appalachian Trail with an old friend from decades prior, we’re subjected to scenes of slapstick comedy (think: old men trying to cross a river), crude anecdotes (don’t bother to think about that one) and the improbable and inexplicable notion that Nolte’s character might be attractive to even a desperate woman in a Laundromat.

Barring an admittedly hilarious cameo from Flight of the Conchords’ Kristen Schaal (who is priceless though not quite worth the ticket price alone), the gentlemen’s exploits, as with their meaningless and unaffecting exchanges, are cringy and ultimately quite dull. If the film is anything to go on, Bryson should have done as his wife bid and stayed home.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th March 2014

Steve Rogers just wants to get the hang of modern living. Having been cryogenically frozen for nearly 70 years, he has missed the key cultural moments of the 20th century, so it’s both funny and rather sweet when he whips out his notebook to record “Marvin Gaye” in his list of must-learns (which inexplicably also includes “Tim Tams”).

But Rogers isn’t going to have time to listen to the purportedly seminal album any time soon, since his day-job is as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, the force of avenging law enforcers tasked with saving the world from foes both foreign (here relics of the Cold War rear their heads) and allegedly friendly. By the time Captain America has been conscripted to fight the terror of an algorithm which predicts humanity’s no-hopers for preemptive extinction, he doesn’t know who to trust.

Fighting French baddies for once, the story kicks off with a ship hijacking but then wades into expositional waters. The excitement doesn’t really take off until Samuel L. Jackson’s agency director Nick Fury gets into a spot of car trouble and suddenly the film hurtles from set-piece to set-piece, in and around modern-day Washington DC. The action darts between fights and car chases, politically-concerned dialogue and franchise in-jokes.

The first Captain America movie digressed pleasantly from Marvel Comics’ usual reliance on CGI costuming and bombastic scenes of destruction by plucking the puny Rogers from World War II and making him into an old-fashioned superhero – all chiselled jaw and mid-century boyish charm. Thankfully the charm is intact in this follow-up (three years since the last film, though the Captain has appeared in crossover Marvel movies in the interim), particularly evident in his easy banter and almost-chemistry with Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Romanoff (nominally Black Widow, though not referred to as such in my hearing at least), who tries to fix him up on dates with girls from the office. Donning hi-tops and hoodies, with Rogers’ shield slung over his back, they make quite the fetching couple as they go on the run with new friend the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) watching their backs.

The casting is strong, with old-timers Robert Redford and Jenny Agutter lending gravitas, and while the story occasionally harks back to previous Captain America scenarios, newcomers will find much to enjoy. The Winter Soldier is a worthy addition to the stable and nicely positioned to leave die-hard fans hankering for 2016’s sequel.

All is Lost

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 16th February 2014

Goodness knows how the pitch went down.

“It’s Robert Redford, stranded on a boat. In the ocean. Alone. Think Gravity at sea. Without Sandra Bullock.”

Because this just about sums up the extraordinary one-hander that is the crinkly-faced movie legend’s latest shot at an Oscar (although note: inexplicably, he wasn’t nominated). It might have sounded terribly dull if Tom Hanks hadn’t already proved that one man and an island is all you need for a couple of gripping cinematic hours in Cast Away. Here, Redford ups the ante by having his island sink from beneath him, leaving him in true peril and fighting for his life.

Writer-director J. C. Chandor impressed with his debut feature, Margin Call, which told of an investment bank steering itself through stormy financial waters during a 24-hour period. His follow-up film feels similarly claustrophobic in its urgency, pitting Redford against a leaky boat, inclement weather and near insanity brought on by the devastating aloneness of it all.

It’s essential, therefore, that Redford’s performance is not only credible but captivating. A paragon of silent, methodical calm, with barely a word of dialogue and scarcely a flicker of emotion, this modern day MacGyver about whom we know (and discover) next to nothing understands what to do and just gets on with it. Patching a gash in the hull, tending to stitches while chest-deep in water – despite the implicit assurance that he knows what he’s doing, Redford’s predicament is nail biting to watch.

Considering the challenges inherent in a virtually wordless script, the soundscape is terrific, mercifully sparing us manipulative attempts to have us like the character and merely arresting us to witness this battle against a universal fear. The result is a movie that surprises for being incredibly exciting right up to its final, desperate moments.

The Company You Keep

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 28th April 2013

Well, you can’t say that a Robert Redford-directed film based on a true life radical protest group in the American 1970s starring Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf and Redford himself doesn’t sound promising. The question is whether a dream cast and a wordy who-really-dunnit story can deliver on its promises. Disappointingly, it doesn’t quite.

Redford casts himself as the lawyer whose sole charge of an adored young daughter is jeopardised when he gets caught up in a decades-old man hunt. In the thirty years since a bank robbery went wrong, the now senior members of a radical cell have dispersed across the country. When one gives herself up, Terrence Howard’s generically intrepid FBI agent gets on the case, and lawyer Jim Grant starts his own investigation.

Despite the film almost drowning under the weight of its star power (count the Oscar nominees on the poster! – proof that clearly when Redford calls, you answer), the performances are mostly solid, even if the likes of Stanley Tucci, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte are underused and Julie Christie comes across as trying too hard. While hardly in their Quartet years just yet, this still feels like an opportunity to get the band back together, with Brit Marling (Arbitrage) and LaBeouf’s contemporary chemistry thrown in to coax the younger audience. Redford should really have cast someone else in his lead role, as much because he appears tired and unconvincing as because the maths of everyone’s ages distractingly doesn’t add up.

It is LaBeouf’s tenacious, plucky young reporter who keeps things moving in this distinctly old-school narrative of drawn-out revelations which nonetheless manages to be engaging from start to end. So I suppose I should say good old Redford, really, for championing the stars of yesteryear in a gritty, well-written if poorly-paced drama.

The Conspirator

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 19th June 2011

Robert Redford’s latest attempt at serious art takes up the true story of Mary Surratt, the boarding house owner who, along with seven men, finds herself charged and put on trial for conspiracy in the 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  We are in the thick of post-Civil War America, and Surratt’s young Unionist lawyer is not initially convinced of his client’s innocence (James McAvoy, boasting yet again his prowess at slipping from various regional British accents into a convincing American twang of the South).  Clearly anyone who’s anyone comes out to play if Redford invites them, as McAvoy is but one bright star in a galaxy lit up by the likes of Robin Wright, Danny Huston, Tom Wilkinson and Kevin Kline.

Each of the men gets the chance to bang his fist on a table and make a strong proclamation about the disgrace of it all (the assassination – not the film).  As Surratt, Robin Wright wears a noble but pained expression throughout her imprisonment, hunger strike and courtroom battle, lifting her veil occasionally to utter a purse-lipped plea of innocence.  As her daughter, Evan Rachel Wood seems similarly constrained, perhaps by corsetry rather than decorum, and overall the narrative feels ponderous, not aided by unexceptional revelations at trial.

Redford may be an esteemed actor, and certainly his film-making ambitions are nothing short of worthy, but he hasn’t directed a good film since Quiz Show in 1994 (unless fans of The Horse Whisperer beg to differ).  Even the recent Lions for Lambs, which rolled out a top-notch cast against the potentially fascinating backdrop of the US government’s involvement in the Middle East, still managed to bore audiences to tears.

The photography is beautiful, and the production design of the early scenes which set up Lincoln’s demise in a theatre evoke superior films of the period such as Ride with the Devil and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Unfortunately though, once the deed has been executed we drift into a courtroom drama that largely fails to enthral.

 

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