Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10)
How does one sum up the life of a loved one in a few hours of film? That can be especially challenging when it involves someone who lived a full life, one that distinguished the individual in question as an artist, an innovator, a rebel, and, perhaps most of all, a loving soul. That’s the task that actor-director Robert Downey Jr. undertook when creating this cinematic tribute to his father, Robert Sr., in the waning months of his life. In doing so, the junior Downey has compiled a documentary that examines the irreverent, unconventional underground filmography of his dad, including a wealth of clips from cult classics like “Putney Swope” (1969), “Pound” (1970), “Greaser’s Palace” (1972) and “Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” (1975), as well as footage from a project the elder filmmaker was working on during the compilation of this production. In addition, the film features interviews with some of Senior’s colleagues, such as Norman Lear, Alan Arkin and character actor Larry Wolf, along with those whose work he significantly influenced, like director Paul Thomas Anderson. But, more than that, the film also chronicles the life of Downey Sr. the man, particularly his loving relationship with his successful yet often-troubled son and his personal battle with Parkinson’s Disease. The inclusion of this material thus gives the picture a quality of universality as it seeks to address the big questions of life that we should all strive to understand as we come to the ends of our lives, issues deftly handled here with profound sensitivity and heartfelt feeling. For all these strengths, though, there are a number of sequences that feel like unfocused filler, especially early on when the film strives to find its footing and establish the tone it’s attempting to set for what follows. Once that’s accomplished, however, this offering flourishes, growing ever more captivating the further one gets into it. Indeed, there’s certainly more going on here than a mere laundry list career recitation, presenting a portrait of an individual – and a relationship – that’s far more personal than what most viewers would likely expect from fare like this. Give this one time to develop, and you’re sure to find it engaging, touching and heartwarming.