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Lem Dobbs (#110 of 2)

Understanding Screenwriting #111: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #111: <em>42</em>, <em>The Company You Keep</em>, <em>Renoir</em>, <em>In the House</em>, <em>To the Wonder</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #111: <em>42</em>, <em>The Company You Keep</em>, <em>Renoir</em>, <em>In the House</em>, <em>To the Wonder</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, Billy & Ray, Looper, The Barbarian, but first…

Fan Mail: I was delighted to see David Ehrenstein back in the comments section and not just because he more or less agreed with me about On the Road. In the past several years I’ve come to feel that my column isn’t complete until David weighs in on it. The other three comments were on Evil Dead. “Syvology” is obviously a genre fan and gave up thinking I could teach him anything when I used the terms “horror movie” and “scary movie” interchangeably. “Buck Theorem” thought the script was worse than I did, especially the exposition, which I thought at least established the characters. The most perceptive comments were from “Dersu DeLarge,” who felt that since I liked some of the humor in this Evil Dead, I might appreciate the humor in the others. I may have to look into that.

42 (2013; written by Brian Helgeland; 128 minutes.)

Almost worthy. Many reviews have pointed out that this is a very conventional screen biography of Jackie Robinson. It is. In the film, he and his wife pretty much say and do what we expect they said and did. But Brian Helgeland is a pretty good screenwriter, and he’s done some nice work here. To keep his focus tight, he’s smart to limit himself to just two years in Robinson’s life, 1945 to ’47, starting with Dodger owner Branch Rickey deciding he’ll make Robinson the first black major-league baseball player. We watch Robinson in the minor leagues learning how to deal with all the small shit that comes down on him there, and then we see him putting that experience to work on the big shit when he’s called up to The Show.

Venice Film Festival 2012: The Company You Keep

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Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Company You Keep</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Company You Keep</em>

What very good company Robert Redford keeps indeed. The 76-year-old stuffs more left-leaning talent into this man-on-the-run thriller than President Obama could fit on stage at a Democratic rally. Here’s a rundown of the embarrassment of acting riches cameoing as former anti-Vietnam militants: Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Root, and Brendan Gleeson. The Company You Keep certainly needs the star wattage to help it sparkle, as there isn’t much in the way of invention when it comes to its workmanlike direction, which leans too much on a typically stellar synth score by Cliff Martinez.

Redford plays Jim Grant, an upstanding civil rights lawyer who’s recently become a widower and is bringing up his young daughter. But there’s no time to observe how he’s coping as a single dad. A two-bit reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), from a local rag has uncovered that Jim is actually Nick Sloan, a key member of the Weatherman Underground, a radical leftwing movement of the ’60s and ’70s, who’s been on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list since the murder of a security guard during a botch bank robbery in 1971. Nick’s comrade, Sharon (Sarandon), is already in the custody of F.B.I. Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), who’s heading up the manhunt, but is unwilling to talk. It’s an intriguing setup that could have made for some interesting twists and turns if Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey, Dark City) weren’t so quick to reassure the audience that Nick is no killer. It’s a move that makes this liberal actor/director look oh so conservative. Early in the film, Nick’s daughter asks him point blank, “Did you kill that man?” “Of course not,” he replies incredulously. Mr. Sundance doesn’t do shades of gray, as his golden locks testify.