Jeremiah Johnson (USA, 1972)

jeremiah_johnson_ver3_xlgDirected by: Sydney Pollack. Wow, this kind of stuff really doesn’t age well. I reached that conclusion within the first 5 minutes of the film: the voice over exposition, the shots of Robert Redford doing his best “determined everyman” look on his face, and immediately after, a fucking song for the opening montage. I was drawn to this because of two things that I thought were solid facts: I like Sydney Pollack, and I like Robert Redford. But I think that when I say I like Sydney Pollack (God rest his eternal soul), what I really mean is that I like him when he’s acting and talking, the sound of his voice, specifically in his few amazing scenes in Eyes Wide Shut. I’m still not sure if I’m a fan of his filmmaking, because I’ve only seen this and Three Days of the Condor, which was pretty cool and everything, but on hindsight not an especially great movie. And when I say I like Robert Redford, I think, as I learned with the aforementioned movie, that I actually like him as we all eternally remember him: in that fantastic, career-defining role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. As much as I liked him in The Sting and Condor, and as good as he was in this movie, I think that I will hazard the cautious hypothesis that Redford is infinitely better as the stoic, shadowy sidekick than he is as the brazen, dialogue-laden protagonist. The further he gets from that magical combination of acting alongside Paul Newman with George Roy Hill directing, the weaker his performances look, the more you can start to see the strings on the marionette (to overuse a metaphor from my last post). But, even keeping all that in mind, this was a proper movie, a good story, a really compelling character arc, with a pretty goddamn harrowing plot event towards the end that seems impressively ahead of its time with how dark it is. As heartbreaking as it is (for once, I really care about not spoiling, so I won’t say what), it’s almost satisfying to have an element of unrelenting, uncaring brute reality, the uncaring hand of fate and the West come crashing into what, in many ways, becomes a pretty safe, saccharine, baby-boomer romanticization of pre-modern life. As always, I’m tempted to read this whole movie through the lens of post-60’s American cynicism, the broken American Dream, etc, but I’ll button it up this time. I would recommend this movie to anyone who’s interested in Redford, Pollack, 70’s cinema in general, long movies in general, or old-timey movies in general.

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