The Company You Keep: a Robert Redford film. The movie opens with TV news pictures from the late ‘60s and a short history lesson about the Weather Underground. An appropriate beginning as many viewers are not going to understand the movie if they have no remembrance of how part of the anti-Vietnam war protest went violent. This movie, which takes place in the present, is about individuals who were active participants in a Weather Underground incident and who then went underground. Robert Redford plays the lead character, Nick Sloan. He also directed the film. After going underground, Sloan resurfaces as a public interest lawyer in Albany, NY. His fabricated persona becomes suspect after the character played by Susan Sarandon is arrested. This occurs at the beginning of the film. The Sarandon character, who has decided to surrender, is instead arrested by the FBI. The lead FBI agent is played by Terrence Howard. The movie is not FBI friendly and Howard’s performance is not helpful. Sloan is flushed out by a young newspaper reporter, Ben Shepard, played by Shia LeBeouf. The film moves between how the reporter discovers what three decades of FBI work had not, and Redford on the run. Turns out that some of the old radicals had maintained communication channels over the past 30 years. It is these minor roles that make this film an enjoyable viewing experience. Nick Nolte is not on screen very long but he dominates for his duration. Julie Christie was Redford’s girlfriend in the day and he is traveling the country to find her because she is the one who knows the true story regarding the incident that forced Redford to recreate himself. Christie is now a drug runner living in Northern California with Mac, played by Sam Elliot. Christie does not look her 71 years and she remains excellent. We also have actors Richard Jenkins and Stephen Root playing other members of the University of Michigan group. Stanley Tucci plays the newspaper editor and Ben Shepard’s boss. The film cast is excellent. As to the storyline, I had mixed emotions after the recent events in Boston. I bet if you asked most Americans to name the most successful organization in planting bombs in American history, they would not guess Weather Underground; in this instance, my reference to “success” relates to number of incidents and not death count. Since I’m old enough to have been in college when much of what led to the formation of the Weather Underground occurred, I remember the incidents that are the understory for this movie. I also recall that the acts of the Underground were not the modern indiscriminate bombings by religious zealots. Still, a bomb is a bomb is a bomb. The fact that the movie made me think is another plus to go with the excellent acting. The movie kept my attention for the 125 minutes. Unfortunately, Redford could not resist a Hollywood ending to his film. I would have preferred the film ending about 5 minutes earlier than it does. I will place at the end of my blog what should have been the closing scene. One additional comment: the script is weak and most of the characters, despite the excellent acting, are too one dimensional. Nolte and Sarandon were notable exceptions and more screen time for them would have been a plus. Redford’s time as a lead actor has passed.POSTSCRIPT ON MOVIE ENDING: Redford and Christie meet at a cabin in Upper Minnesota. The FBI had tracked Redford character but has no idea Christie is present. They run from the cabin in opposite directions and Christie makes it to a lake wharf where a small boat is present. Then there is a long shot of the boat in the lake. I would have ented the movie with that scene.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
42: telling the story of Jackie Robinson integrating major league baseball. The movie covers the period from 1945 through Robinson’s rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This is not a biography of Jackie Robinson. Instead, using baseball and the Robinson story, a snapshot of America right after winning WWII is being told. While every baseball fan should see this movie, “42” is more than just a baseball film. The movie opens with a background voice talking about the soldiers returning home but despite the victory over fascism, segregation through Jim Crow laws remain rampant throughout much of the country. The racism that existed was blatant and the movie does not hide this fact. Nor does it hide the anti-Semitism which was also prevalent. A scene shows the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies asking reporters why can’t I call Robinson a Nigger if I can call Hank Greenberg a Kike. The adventures of Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) provide an interesting counterpoint. For you non-baseball fans, Durocher was the manager of the Dodgers who got suspended in 1947 for his lack of morals - he was dating a Hollywood starlet who got divorced over the relationship. I could launch into a discussion of sexual morality verses treating each human as an equal, but I won’t. Chadwick Boseman is a credible Jackie Robinson and Nicole Beharie plays his wife Rachel. The movie is also a love story as they appear to have had a remarkable relationship. Mrs. Robinson is still alive and actively working with the education foundation bearing Jackie’s name. The integration of baseball happened as early as 1947 due to one man, Branch Rickey. He was a lone voice. Rickey was the general manager of the Dodgers and it was through his drive and the character of Robinson that baseball integration occurred when it did, with success. Harrison Ford does a marvelous job portraying Rickey. The movie was written and directed by Brian Helgeland and he is not into complexity. The movie score is unfortunate. It has the sound of a ‘40s movie, which is not meant as a compliment. Using a movie score to tell the viewer what is important is not a device I endorse. The 128 minute movie is complimentary to some baseball players (Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca) and shows the blatant racism of others (Dixie Walker and Enos Slaughter). An individual who is shown to have evolved thorough his interaction with Robinson was Bobby Bragan. There is also a father/son scene which shows how racist acts are passed from father to son. I recommend that you watch history being told in an entertaining movie but afterwards think about what has transpired during the past 66 years.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
The Gatekeepers: an Israeli Oscar nominated documentary. This is a remarkable 97 minute film that if you have any interest in Israel, the Middle East or just foreign policy decision making, you should see. The film maker, Dror Moreh, somehow obtained interviews with the past six heads from 1980 of Shin Bet, the Israeli security service. I understand some of them had never sat for interviews before. The interviews are interspersed with historical documentary footage. This is not a talking heads film. Instead, the points being made by the Shin Bet leaders regarding the occupation of the Palestinian territories are illustrated with contemporary film stock and very inventive computer-generated imagery. I am curious whether you are able to spot what is computer generated as opposed to actual historical footage. Note that this movie also confronts internal Jewish terrorism. Shin Bet is more than a secret service organization and closer to our FBI. Each of these guys are brutally honest about the political situation they operate within and the lack of moral courage as to many of the Israeli politicians. There is one major exception: Yitzhak Rabin. The movie shows how an assassination can change the course of history. While I’m not a believer in the great men theory of history, there is no question certain individuals can change the course. Rabin almost became one of those individuals but his vanity in not wearing a bullet proof vest as recommended halted a march to peace. Interesting, there is not significant commentary on Ariel Sharon’s actions in pulling Israel out of Gaza and his indications of taking unilateral action in the West Bank when he had the stroke although Shin Bet information was a significant factor in Sharon’s decision making regarding both subjects. Both Rabin and Sharon understood the inherent problem with ruling over a population that over time is going to be larger than the Jewish population: regardless of all other issues this is a critical factor that this movie directly addresses. Key to understanding the truth of the film message is all six men have reached similar conclusions. As to why my comment about foreign policy is that one of the themes presented is that nothing bad comes from conversations with your enemies. At a minimum, both sides learn that the other is not the devil or the anti-Christ. The film also illustrates how basing foreign policy decisions on politics can lead to serious long term negative consequences. Too much of what has occurred is the result of tactics over strategy with Rubin and Sharon being the exception. Seeing this film will provide an education no matter how much you think you may know about Israel and Palestinian politics. Further, the documentary holds your attention for the entire 97 minutes. Unfortunately, I’ve heard Benjamin Netanyahu has not seen this film. Final point: I cannot imagine any current Arab government allowing a film such as Gatekeepers being made.