Poor entertainment, fantasy history, no character is credible, directed by Robert Redford.
This movie is set in the present day. Since there are big stars in the film it is easier to refer to the stars rather than the names of the characters each portrays.
Susan Sarandon is arrested for a murder she committed during a bank robbery while she was with the Weathermen in the early 1970s. I note that there seemed many surveillance cameras in the bank during the robber and murder, suitable for today but the 1970s? Scruffy aging looking guy comes up to Robert Redford, playing an attorney in the movie. He tells Robert, represent Susan. Robert refers the case to a Philadelphia lawyer.
It turns out that Robert is connected to Susan. He was a Weatherman, who knew all the bank robbers, who dropped out of the movement and who reentered society as an attorney in New York in 1979. Robert goes on the run and visits former Weatherman friends who help him; some of them get arrested for present and past transgressions. The FBI (Terrance Howard, Anna Kinrick) is really cleaning up. Robert wants to find a Weathergirl, now woman, Julie Christie who can testify he was not in the bank and didn’t shoot anyone. Julie was in the bank and responsible.
This trite story never should have become a movie. A far superior movie about radicals trying to life a normal life underground and having to flee is Running on Empty (Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti). Behaviors and development of fugitive Weathermen are absent in this movie. It becomes a chase movie with no cars following one another.
The characters – Susan, Julie and Robert – are sell outs. They can still talk revolution, anarchy and radicalism, but they enjoy the good, prosperous life. The dialogue about the purity of the good old days is phony and false. All the comrades who Robert mets cherish their current lives; they flourish in American society, except for the scruffy looking guy at the beginning. The audience never sees him again; the FBI never catches up with him.
The movie has the major premise that the Weathermen split from SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) because they wanted to the bring the Vietnam War home, fight violence with violence. This is complete crap, a falsehood. The Weathermen separated from SDS for personal reasons: The Weathermen were megalomaniacs, mentally ill sociopaths and psychopaths willing to use any tactics but avoid jeopardy to themselves.(Praise for Charles Manson) They learned their social and political skills in junior high school and never progressed from there. After the split, SDS and other radicals said about the WeatherVain, “You don’t need to be a Weatherman to know who the assholes are.” Jane Alpert’s Growing Up Underground, Morrow, 1981, is an excellent book about those lives and those people. The SDS and Weatherman split is recounted in many books, most notably Todd Gitlin, The Sixties, Bantam, 1989.
Many other sources from time to time have chapters and passages telling of the persons within the Weatherman and similarly violent groups. A fair representation of the personalities (without the seedy, lustrous life) is found in Katherine, with Sissy Spacek. It is known and occasionally mentioned in Robert’s movie that the Weathermen could not agree among themselves and were unwilling to agree with anyone else. The Weathermen were individuals who Lenin described in What Needs to Be Done: “Let them call themselves Social Democrats to their heart’s content. I am not a child to get excited over a label.” Lenin himself was caught up in those pettinesses. Purportedly near death Lenin was arguing with Julius Martov, (Russian revolutionary Social Democrat living outside the Soviet Union) carrying on a disagreement of 10 or 20 years before. Lenin was for for Leninism; Martov inclined to leftist social democracy.
Problems in the late Sixties, cooking and typing were shitwork. Life was a bitch! The Weathermen had many things to argue over: money, who would do the laundry, who would wash the dishes, why they were always eating hippie food (vegetables), whether bugs in the bathroom ought to be killed, who would kill and skin the pet bunny to eat for that night’s dinner (Don’t add squirrel to the stew!), whether love meant cleaning the toilet after someone else vomited into it and mostly hit the bowl, who would do what in bed, or on the kitchen table, in the car with whom and with which species and how many people could watch and who could listen to the narration and who could talk without being interrupted. It was a time for a lot of back to nature stuff.
It was a time when rape was described as “an attack with a friendly weapon.” In 1970 for a journalism class I reported on crime on the UC Berkeley campus and spoke with a supervisor of the UC Police Department. About rape he advised, “The woman should not resist. She ought to lay back and enjoy it.” It was a time when No did not mean No. No meant, yes, maybe, go ahead slowly. Berkeley communes and houses had free sex in the late Sixties; there are articles. Yet women found the arrangements very unsatisfactory. It is no wonder that the next “political” move was to Women’s Liberation and to Feminism.
The Weathermen were Neanderthals. They rejected monogamy and personal relationships. They adopted a new way written up by a German neanderthal, Frederick Engels who wrote that monogamy was akin to owning private property and the personal relationships were anti-socialist. All that would change under socialism. Society would become more friendly to males, as Bill Clinton aptly demonstrated. (See Engel, “The Origins of the Family: Private Property and the States.” From Feminism to Liberation, Altbach, Edit, Hoshino, Ed., Cambridge, Schenkman Publishing Co, 1971, p. 47-52 including smashing monogamy cartoon.)
Robert, actor and director, plays an attorney with a child. I know hundreds of attorneys. Robert’s first bit of dialogue involves land use and taking title to private property under the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution. Ten minutes later Robert is identified as a “public interest” lawyer; later he has a “private practice.” Robert has nice offices. Everything is modern and upscale around his assistant with a desk top computer. On Robert’s desk no stacks of files clutter the desk; there is no laptop; there seemed to be no notepads; there were no piles of messages; the phone seemed inconspicuous. There are a few diplomas on the walls and a few ” good work,” plaques. There are no photographs of his daughter or Robert’s dead wife. There is a set of Martindale & Hubbel behind Robert – Martindale is seven volumes with listings of attorneys by community and state. Inside is a brief description of law, but they are not books of law, certainly not for a “public interest” lawyer.
PARAGRAPH A. In his office Reporter (Stupido) asks Robert whether he will represent (defend) Susan. No brainer. Robert is a “public interest” lawyer, not a criminal defense lawyer trying to handle a difficult case, murder in the 1970s. Robert would commit legal malpractice if he tried to defend Susan. His defense would result in an automatic reversal of any guilty verdict based upon inadequate representation of counsel. Robert himself would be disciplined by his state bar – attorneys get disbarred for taking cases they cannot handle. Finally, this whole interview is nonsensical, as the audience learns later. Robert is a member of the bar of New York; Susan was arrested in Vermont. Neither New York nor Vermont are where the bank robbery occurred. (Michigan) Trial will be in Michigan. Robert presumably is not licensed to practice in Michigan; he would have to jump through hoops to get permission to represent Susan there.
Susan is a sell out. She is represented by the Philadelphia attorney Robert recommends. She has the bucks because we all know Philly attorneys work cheap. Robert is an idiot. He’s supposed to be underground, avoiding publicity. But he’s a “public interest” lawyer, getting “good work” plaques, gallivanting around New York state helping on this cause or that. When he learns Susan is in trouble, he recommends a lawyer and jabbers with Stupido rather than say, I know nothing about it.
The young reporter, Stupido, approaches Robert. He wants to know why Robert won’t defend Susan. Being a reporter he knows everything that is in PARAGRAPH A. Obviously, this reporter would go to a podiatrist when a urologist is needed. But to carry the movie along, Robert is very accommodating; he lets Stupido make a complete moron of himself. At the end of the interview Robert says too much: “Thirty years ago the movement could have used a smart guy like you…”
I’m addressing Robert, the director, now. 2 + 2 = 4. The movie is set in the present day. The crimes leading to Susan’s arrest happened in the early seventies, meaning 42-44 years ago. SDS and the Weathermen split in 1968 after the Columbia University occupation in May 1968. [Most women split from SDS in the summer of 1967 after a brute told Shulamith Firestone, approaching the microphone with a feminist socialist agenda, “Go away little girl. We’re talking about important matters.”] Robert should know that when he and Paul Newman were making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the time when the Weatherman were plotting their moves – the Days of Rage in Chicago (fall 1969) and blowing themselves up in New York City (March 1970.) It was not 30 years ago. It was 45 years ago. Robert, the director and the actor playing a character, should also know that Robert came from the Underground to become an attorney 30 years ago – that was 10 -12 years after the bank robbery.
Having lost credibility as an arithmetic student, Robert the attorney loses all credibility as a counselor to trust when he says Stupido is a “smart guy.” This is a very inept reporter who looks like he’s lost 20 IQ points by smoking too much dope. (He’s jittery and defensive) What Robert did not say is the truth: The Weathermen were dolts and dullards. Kirkpatrick Sales in SDS reports that Weatherman leaders, Mark Rudd and Bill Aryes (Obama’s friend), bragged in meetings that neither of them had read a book for more than a year. The actor playing Stupido looks like he didn’t read the script and certainly he did not comprehend it.
The big plot twist yielded no suspense and destroyed any connect with reality: Robert is underground himself. He has the new identify as a lawyer since 1979, ten years after all the criminal acts happened. Robert is a man wanted by the pigs for murder in the Michigan robbery.
The first fallacy of the movie cannot be swallowed by the most gullible person in the audience: When one person of a dormant underground cell is found and arrested, the other members of the cell or network do not contact one another. They do not contact old friends. They are prepared to go on the lam – get cash, get disguises, have a car ready. But not Robert. He’s Robert Redford forever. Robert runs from one former Weatherman to another, endearing them to him – some get arrested. Of course, they whole point of going underground is to disappear and not see anyone who may know you. Indeed in the movie for a while, the FBI does not cancel Robert’s credit cards and ATM machine card, so they can learn where he’s going. Yet Robert always seems to have food, transportation and comfort. I inferred he was using his cards, but the FBI was slow – to keep the movie going. Anyone underground fleeing the cops would know, use no electronic devises, have no electronic transactions to allow the cops to know where you are use burn phones.
The reason Robert is on the lam is to find Julie Christie. Julie Weathergirl is still full of anarchist/radical crap. What she says is true. Obama’s Wall Street friends are looting the country. She makes her money trafficking drugs.
Julie runs to Robert. She knows about the recent arrests because the press broadcasts everything. It’s magnetism and magic to go, see Robert whom she hasn’t seen for 30 years, [45 years], [12 years], [last week?]. She wonders what the audience wonders: Why am I going? Nothing good will come of it because she knows Robert wants her to turn herself in – implicate herself and tell the cops that Robert was not in the bank during the robbery/murder. Of course Susan who is already arrested could testify to the same facts, but no one ever expects Susan to tell the truth. She’s a sell out.
Robert and Julie meet in the cabin, cold outside but not warm inside. Robert left his Viagra in New York, so Julie is disappointed. Again, why did Julie drive from California to Michigan? [For a high school reunion among the losers?] In their cabin scene it is clear that Robert was involved in the planning of the bank robbery; he just didn’t make it to the bank. If Julie admitted guilt, she would also tell about the planning. That makes Robert guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and murder. This legal point makes the whole movie fake, phony and fraudulent. Robert is going to prison if anyone talks. Yet Robert runs around contacting people who can talk about him and the bank. Robert is not a very good lawyer. He’s dense; he should be disbarred.
Julie says she will not turn herself in. It’s the first sensible action by anyone in the movie. She leaves Robert in the cabin and runs to a pier, to a boat. She motor and sails away to the end of her life. But she’s troubled. Robert is going to prison for a robbery/murder he helped plan but wasn’t directly involved in. It is horrible. Robert Redford in the hoosegow. Watching Brubaker was hard enough. Julie turns the boat around: VOICE OVER RADIO BROADCAST: Julie turned herself in. Robert is free. It’s a sad ending. I hoped Julie would have the smarts to save Robert’s daughter from a lifetime of a further life with Robert, rather than with Chris Cooper, her uncle, openly established, less criminal and closer to her age.
Equally preposterous are the role of Stupido and the FBI. Stupido follows a very simple trail to wind up at the cabin after Julie leaves. REMEMBER the Weathermen are fugitives who want to be underground and untraceable – no public records, no trail of any kind, no revisiting of old haunts. Yet, Stupido easily learns much about Robert and his Weatherman activities and buddies and follows, whereas the FBI are steps behind. The Bureau also loses the ability to follow Robert through his credit cards.
Everything Stupido does and the FBI doesn’t is a plot contrivance.