Tag Archives: Robert Redford

Going Once…Going Twice…

Public Trust

by George Wolf

Do we really need another documentary showcasing greed as one of America’s most identifiable traits, “rigged” as our favorite path to winning, and Donald Trump as one of our biggest mistakes?

Check the calendar. Yes, we do.

Director David Byars, whose 2017 debut documentary No Man’s Land profiled the fight over Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife refuge, returns to environmental concerns with Public Trust, a deep dive into an ongoing battle for ground.

That ground is a swath of some 640 million acres of public land, currently held in trust by the federal government and “owned” by every American citizen. Cut to the chase: conservatives have been trying to privatize these National Parks, forests, grasslands and refuges for decades (since Reagan – shocker!), and the lunatic now in office makes something as unthinkable as selling off the Grand Canyon seem like it might be on the table.

As good documentarians do, Byars humanizes the issue through people invested in the subject. From a journalist in the trenches to a climate change warrior to a Native American tribe fighting for their livelihood, we feel how these lands are tied to identity and common good on one side, and industry profits on the other.

With Robert Redford on board as executive producer, the lack of narrative flash here comes as little surprise. But while Public Trust‘s case building is workmanlike, the rallying cry is no less urgent.

Vote, before it’s too late.

Geriatric Horseman

The Old Man & the Gun

by George Wolf

Even if this doesn’t end up being Robert Redford’s final film as an actor, it’s understandable why he’d be tempted to make it his swan song.

Redford’s decades-long status as a screen icon has always leaned more on charm than range, and The Old Man & the Gun wears that strategy like a favorite pair of broken-in boots.

Director/co-writer David Lowery adapts a magazine article on a likable rogue named Forest Tucker, who broke out of San Quentin at the age of 70 and earned his folk hero status with a string of brazen bank robberies.

Tucker (Redford, natch) plots the heists with his grey-haired gang of two (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) and flirts with the farm-living Jewel (Sissy Spacek) while lawman John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on his tail.

And the old scalawag couldn’t be happier while doing it.

The story is light and whimsical, but thanks to the veteran actors and the slyly understated direction, it’s got a frisky heart that won’t quit. Watching Redford and Spacek together is a joy in itself, as Jewel’s bemused-but-curious reaction to her new suitor only brings more twinkles to his eye. Then there’s Affleck easily filling Hunt with the perfect strain of frustration-laced respect, and Waits delivering some deliciously dry one-liners.

But it’s Lowery who may be the real wonder here. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story, he again shows unique storytelling instincts no matter what tonal gears he’s shifting. This film is a satisfied mosey, one that serves as a sunset ride for a Hollywood legend while letting the exploits of a charming bandit reinforce the value of just loving what you do.

For Tucker, it was robbing banks. For Redford, it was being an iconic leading man.

Lowery makes sure they both get a proper sendoff.

Sit. Stay. Breathe Fire.

Pete’s Dragon

by George Wolf

Just a few months after a triumphant re-imagining of The Jungle Book, Disney heads back to the vault to give Pete’s Dragon a similar live action/animation reboot…with less magical results.

Much has changed from the 1977 cartoon, starting with the surprisingly tragic depiction of how a very young Pete becomes an orphan. Losing his parents in isolated woodlands deep in the Pacific Northwest, Pete is promptly befriended  by the very dragon whose legend has been passed down for decades in local song and story.

Pete will call his dragon “Elliot.”

Well, we’re told it’s a dragon, but here he or she is more like a big, green dog with wings. Look at it chasing its tail and fetching a stick!

Six years later, park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) encounters an injured Pete (Oakes Fegley) in the forest and takes him home, where stories of a dragon best friend intrigue Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford), who may have his own history with Elliot. These stories also catch the attention of local meanypants Gavin (Karl Urban), who quickly assembles a hunting parting with an aim to “put himself on the map” by bagging a giant green trophy.

Director/co-writer David Lowery makes a monster-sized pivot from the poetic desperation of his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and while Pete’s Dragon is rife with gentle sweetness, it’s lacking in both depth and wonder.

After the bracing prologue, characters and situations are broadly drawn, as if to never challenge any viewer older than Pete himself. It’s a curious approach for a PG-rated film, and the less than subtle, too often sappy treatment undercuts later attempts to resonate on a more metaphorical level.

Does Pete’s desire to stay with Elliot represent that wish to escape adult responsibilities and hold tight to childhood wonders? Maybe, but that Neverland remains out of sight.

We do get perfectly acceptable, albeit generically feel good lessons on the importance of family, and that’s fine. But despite those wings, Pete’s Dragon never quite soars.




… or Consequences


by Hope Madden

James Vanderbilt’s Truth is hardly the first film to point out the folly of marrying journalism and profit. From Sidney Lumet’s 1976 masterpiece Network to last year’s creepily spectacular Nightcrawler, cinematic history is littered with brilliant examples of this disastrous partnership.

Truth stands apart for two reasons. 1) The recent history lesson is, in fact, a real life event, and 2) Cate Blanchett stars.

The film is at its best as an excavation of the bits and pieces of a 2004 story produced by Mary Mapes (Blanchett) and reported by Dan Rather (Robert Redford) for Sixty Minutes II, a now-defunct Wednesday night airing of the CBS news program.

In 2004, Mapes – having recently broken the story of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse – chose to dig in to George W. Bush’s less-than-impressive Texas Air National Guard records. It was the middle of an election during which his opponent John Kerry’s military record was being “swift boated.” It was also the dawn of an age in journalism: make enough noise about an inconsequential detail and the story itself becomes nothing but background noise.

Vanderbilt’s screenplay, based on Mapes’s book “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power,” chronicles both the details of the reporting and the larger machinations of political power-wielding and corporate gutlessness, landing on some tragic consequences for a population interested in the truth.

Conservative bloggers insisted Mapes used forged documentation – a fact that could never be 100% corroborated or dispelled – and in one of the ugliest scenes of corporate media overreaction and cowardice, CBS fired Mapes and her team and forced Dan Rather into disgraced retirement.

Like Vanderbilt’s screenplay for the David Fincher film Zodiac, Truth is alive with details. Unfortunately, Fincher’s skill behind the camera gave Zodiac the compelling pull of a mystery, where Vanderbilt’s focus waffles between minutia and big picture without an elegant flow.

There are moments of real greatness here, especially as the story begins to crumble before Mapes’s eyes, and decisions made in the heat of story construction come back to haunt her. Basically, Blanchett is perfect, even when the writing fails her, even when the direction feels underwhelming. She’s fiery and raw, creating a character who is naturally in battle at all times.

Redford, on the other hand, comes casually to Dan Rather. He does not look the part. He looks like Robert Redford, which is curious given that he’s playing a public figure. But it isn’t long into the performance that you find an understated, dignified man whose professionalism and scruples have fallen out of fashion.

The film is a scary, flawed, but fascinating look at a frighteningly flawed and fascinating business.


Into the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

by Hope Madden

In 1998, Bill Bryson published the funny human adventure A Walk in the Woods – the tale of a man grappling with his morality by walking the Appalachian Trail. To stave off boredom he invites (perhaps mistakenly) a friend. Though it lumbers at times, the book is a fun odd couple account of human frailty and the vastness of the natural world.

It’s 2015, and Robert Redford has released a broad, uninspired treatment/vanity project. Redford plays Bryson, the travel writer bristling against age and stagnation. Nick Nolte is Stephen Katz, the overweight, gimpy recovering alcoholic eager to accompany him on his journey.

It’s hard to understand what made Redford want to create this wisp of a comedy road trip after last year’s gripping The Wild, a film that treads very similar ground. But where Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar nominated flick illustrated personal exploration and the redemptive power of nature, Redford’s is content with lazy gags and hollow attempts at profundity.

Redford and Nolte lack chemistry, and while Nolte entertains in several humorous moments, Redford’s utter lack of comic timing is itself kind of awe inspiring.

It’s also absurd casting, given that Bryson – in his 40s when he attempted the trail – was facing a midlife crisis, yet feared he may be too old to make the trip. Nick Nolte is 71 and Robert Redford is 79, for lord’s sake.

At least you can expect a breathtaking view, though, right? Wrong. Director Ken Kwapis misses every opportunity to exploit the sheer gorgeousness of the AT, providing no more than 3 lovely, if brief, images of natural beauty. Nor can he authentically express the passage of time, articulate the grueling nature of the journey, or build tension, and he and his writers (Rick Kerb and Bill Holderman) utterly abandon the enjoyably creepy representation of the South you’ll find in Bryson’s text.

An early draft of the script came from Michael Arndt, whose work on Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 suggests the kind of playful humor and storytelling skill the project deserved. Unfortunately, the end product came from the keystrokes of Redford’s regular contributor Holderman, which may be why Redford so rarely makes decent movies anymore.


Captain Fantastic


Captain America:  The Winter Soldier

by George Wolf


Robert Redford’s appearance as S.H.I.E.L.D director Alexander Pierce not only brings a boost of legendary star power to Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, but also provides a direct link to thrillers of old that the film recalls.

The new Captain adventure has its feet firmly planted in the world of spies and political intrigue. Think Redford classics such as Three Days of the Condor or All the President’s Men with a healthy dose of Avenging, and you’re getting warm.

Much of what made Captain America:  The First Avenger work was the way it fully embraced the bygone era and dogged earnestness of Captain Steve Rogers. This time out, First Avenger screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely return to successfully bring their hero into the present while casting a knowing eye toward the future. The tandem also wrote Thor:  The Dark World, and they clearly have impressive instincts for how to foster superpowers.

Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, effortlessly charming) is adjusting to his new time period, partly by embracing the internet and keeping a notebook of things he missed that deserve attention (like the birth of Apple and classic Marvin Gaye).  After an exciting rescue of high seas hostages, murderous events lead Cap, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, effortlessly sexy) and Nick Fury (Sam Jackson, effortlessly badass) to realize someone is dirty in the land of S.H.I.E.L.D, and they have a secret weapon of their own.

He’s the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) an assassin with a familiar backstory and an ambitious target list:  Cap and his crew, including new superfriend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

The Winter Soldier is witty and clever (be sure to read that gravestone) but it may also be the most cerebral of the Marvel movies. It respects the past while confronting the complexities of modern life and wondering what they mean for our future.

For some of the youngest audience members, that may mean some stretches of restlessness. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo do provide impressive and well-paced action sequences, but it’s what comes between the fisticuffs that gives The Winter Soldier a weighty, dare I say realistic relevance.

And, per the Marvel way, stay in your seat for some extra shawarma midway through the credits, and another serving at the very end.