Top critical review
8 people found this helpful
an opportunity missed?
on March 22, 2015
With stars of the magnitude of Redford and Streisand, why doesn't this movie work as well as it should? Or maybe the question is "Why doesn't it work today, forty years on?" I think the problem is the writing, especially for Streisand's part, Katie Morosky. Katie is supposed to be seriously intellectually and politically engaged, a woman of principle, who is attracted to, but is very different from, the pragmatic, but not cynical, Gentile Hubbell Gardner (Redford). The differences between them are always a source of trouble in their relationship, but the trouble comes to a head when Hubbell shows himself willing to tone down the screenplay based on his novel in order to not run afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947. By this time, Katie and Hubbell have been together for ten years, and married for two or three, and Katie is pregnant with their child. For all that, Hubbell's willingness to give in to the demands of the craven director George Bissinger (Patrick O'Neal) is the last straw, and they separate, though we are meant to believe that on some level their love is undiminished. It's a potentially powerful scenario, but it's undermined by having Streisand's activist -- and basically, she's always for peace -- be no more than a sloganeer, a kind of caricature of a woman who gets up in public and spouts slogans and thus causes herself and her loved ones embarrassment. The earlier part of the movie makes clear that Katie is supposed to be smart, but her part is not written smart, and we're supposed to take her simplicities as evidence of her commitment and good heart without being given any chance to see the intelligence that underwrites her political passion. Consequently, she comes across as only an embarrassment to Hubbell's rich friends, whereas we are meant, I believe, to see that she has the moral high ground and that the embarrassment reflects poorly on them, not on Katie. Could Streisand have credibly played an intelligent Katie with a better script? Absolutely.
The fact that Katie is so weakly written makes Hubbell appear more attractive and less conflicted than he should be, and if that had not been the case, then the sub-plot of Katie's neediness, her sense of her own unattractiveness compared to the golden-boy beauty of Hubbell, would have been much sharper and more poignant. Streisand's finest moments in the movie are when she faces Hubbell with her belief in her unattractiveness and her need for him -- moments that have nothing to do with politics -- and that show how effective an actress Streisand can be. On the whole, though, Redford doesn't have anything to play against, and as a result his characterization in a potentially interesting conflict seems rather shallow. And even more damagingly, the whole discussion and dramatization of the stakes at the HUAC hearings -- which should be part of the climax of the movie's public (as opposed to private) theme -- are murkily handled and again show us Katie in her role as sloganeer rather than intelligent protestor.
In a special feature accompanying my DVD, the director Sidney Pollack and Streisand discuss the movie. Redford is absent, and given that he is a serious thinker on political matters, one can't help feeling that he couldn't have been too happy with the simplicities and sentimentalities that this movie trades in. Pollack doesn't say much about the script, though he talks about how he liked the scenario. Fair enough -- as a scenario, it had potential. But he also talks of how difficult it was to persuade Redford to take the part, and one wonders if even then Redford saw problems. (Apparently Ryan O'Neal was the next man in line, if Redford had decided not to do it.) As far as acting is concerned, Redford does a professional job, and the movie was a great success -- but that was because of its romantic themes, not its trivialized political ones. I would call it an opportunity missed.