The filmmaker Robert Downey deserved greater than a conventional bio-doc. He made movies exterior the system, typically feeling like they have been coming into type as you watched them. There’s such spontaneity to his work that a regular talking-head method to his artwork would virtually really feel like an insult. Fortunately, his son Robert Downey Jr. and ace documentarian Chris Smith (“American Film”) understood that, and they also approached the shifting “Sr.” in a way that befitted its subject material. It is a Russian nesting doll of a bio-doc, a chunk about household as a lot as it’s filmmaking as a result of the 2 are inextricable for its topic.
Shot in black-and-white that makes every little thing really feel a little bit extra like spying on somebody’s dwelling motion pictures, “Sr.” facilities on a father and son who formed one another’s lives and nonetheless clearly carry a substantial amount of love for each other (and some unresolved points). Within the late Sixties and early Nineteen Seventies, Robert Downey grew to become a cultural touchstone, discovering his most success within the anarchic satire “Putney Swope.” Smith, Downey’s son, and the filmmaker reveal their course of all through “Sr.,” discussing how you can body sure scenes and even presenting alternate variations of a few of them in a manner that Downey Sr. would minimize versus Smith. (I wished extra of this for what it reveals about Downey’s course of vs. the doc about him.) In consequence, it turns into a documentary not nearly historical past however concerning the very present artwork of filmmaking, capturing three voices coming collectively to supply what you see on display screen.
Whereas that method would possibly result in a chilly, distanced, and virtually formally medical end result for some initiatives, the opposite happens in “Sr.” By flattening the curtain of the method, it is like we’re within the room with Robert and his household greater than we’d be in a extra conventional bio-doc. The asides or glances that may be minimize in a extra polished model of this movie elevate it into one thing private. There are occasions when the house film method might be overly calculated, and I feel there is a model of “Sr.” that is even rougher across the edges, extra verité and fewer refined, as a result of it is the little beats that really feel so real that give it the emotional power it achieves by the tip.
Because you see, Robert Downey is dying on this movie—he handed in August 2021, and our very personal Sergio Mims wrote a lovely tribute right here—and so your complete mission has the ability of finality. It is a eulogy being co-written by the particular person it eulogizes. The emotional entry given to Smith by its topics is remarkable, particularly in scenes the place we see one of the well-known superhero actors in historical past actually break down as he discusses his father in remedy classes. The reality is that Junior’s addictions have been fed by a person who was so counter-culture that he gave his child medication at a really younger age, and that is a demon that even loss of life cannot absolutely extinguish, nevertheless it’s fascinating to see Downey wrestling with it.
Among the household histories may have used some deeper digging, and the documentary additionally typically feels prefer it’s taking part in tug-of-war between one thing one would watch in a movie research class and one thing one would watch in a psychology class. I am fairly positive its topics would argue that is intentional. Movie and psychology aren’t simply comparable, they’re household.