Doughtily undeterred by the less-than-stellar performance of 2007’s politics lecture Lions For Lambs , Robert Redford has carefully crafted another big issue thriller that’s longer on high moral principles than high-octane action.
His thoughtful, whole-hearted drama about a left-wing radical forced on the lam after 30 years underground is rooted in America’s burning ’60s questions (Vietnam, chiefly) but can’t catch fire itself.
After an intriguing opener, in which an FBI snatch-up of long-dormant bank robber Susan Sarandon catapults Redford’s wrongly-accused lawyer Nick into a dash to clear his name, it settles into a character-led, ethics-heavy odyssey.
Redford’s fugitive may be trying to outrun his past, but his onscreen pace is more of a senior shuffle. His boyish grin and his laconic facility to hoodwink the Feds simply don’t get the heart-rate up like a thriller should.
With a shortage of story twists and an early-signposted big reveal, Shia LaBeouf’s cocky cub-reporter – snapping at the fugitive’s heels for his big, career-making scoop – can’t get an All The President’s Men conspiracy vibe going either.
Youth gets short-changed here, but the movie still tosses in snappy FBI source Anna Kendrick and LaBeouf’s principled love interest Brit Marling, angling for Generation Y as well as baby-boomer audience interest.
Far more riveting is the grouchy-old-hippie network that Nick calls on. Fine leftover-leftie cameos range from Nick Nolte’s unabashed ‘liberty or death’ lumberman to Richard Jenkins’ nervy academic.
But it’s left to Sarandon’s unrepentant prisoner to mount a crackling defence of the embattled political extremism of the ’60s.
Thankfully too smart to be blearily nostalgic, Lem Dobbs’ ( Haywire ) script shows well-judged ambivalence about hippie radicalism. However, no such even-handedness is extended to today’s jackal journalism.
The film’s think-of-the-children preachiness pours scorn on LaBeouf’s corner-cutting determination to break the story. Tonally, then, it’s pretty earnest.
Still, Redford’s emotional discretion gives the film’s confrontations a nice undertow of yearning, a brittle sense of innumerable things left unsaid between Nolte and Julie Christie’s elusive anarcho-OAP.
A pity, then, that the denouement creaks like an arthritic joint. Not so much Three Days Of The Condor , as Three Days Of The Codger …