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by Jack Sommersby

"A Memorable Year; an Unmemorable Movie"
2 stars

A talented cast is stuck trying to give validity to a screenplay that's nothing but cliches.

Written by the same Ernest Thompson who inexplicably scored an Oscar for his lachrymose On Golden Pond, the countercultural drama 1969 boasts passable performances and an okay feel for time and place, but it's so dramatically obvious, so thematically synthetic that it disappears from your mind five minutes after leaving the theatre. It's the Vietnam War era, and college students Scott (Kiefer Sutherland) and Ralph (Robert Downey, Jr.), both of have whom enrolled in school to avoid being drafted into military service, come home to their small Maryland town during a break, where their community is polarized by the war. Ralph's single-mother (Joanna Cassidy) and younger sister (Winona Ryder) are staunch left-wingers, while Scott has an older brother set to report to duty, an unquestioning WWII-veteran father (Bruce Dern) who favors any U.S.-led war, and a mother (Mariette Hartley) whose stance has changed since one of her sons is being sent overseas. Scott, growing his hair long and sporting an earring, irks his father's chagrin with his anti-war proclamations; and Ralph, experimenting with any recreational drugs he can get his hands on, doesn't take his studies seriously and is in danger of flunking out, and thus susceptible to getting drafted. That's about it for the story, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it and the characters were complex and interesting enough to sustain audience interest from start to finish, and they're not. Thompson, utterly dedicated to making both a political and sociological "statement," has shortchanged the movie of a penetrating core -- just about everything's fogged over and hazy, much like a hippie drug trip; and the second you start pondering whether anything in it holds up or not you have to remind yourself just what we're supposed to be responding to. The characters are always speaking in platitudes where the words are more representational than organic, and there isn't a single person on the screen who doesn't say something we haven't already expected. (You can practically lip-synch the over-obvious dialogue.) Thompson is making his directorial debut, and hasn't it in him to put much of a visual interpretation onto his mishmash material, and he leaves his actors cruelly exposed in their underwritten roles. Sutherland was dynamic as the second-in-command vampire in The Lost Boys, and Downey, Jr. was unforgettable as the Beverly Hills druggie in Less Than Zero, but neither succeeds in making much of an impression here. The only one who manages to break through is Ryder, who earlier in the year scored as the Goth teen in Beetlejuice, and here gets beneath the surface and occasionally achieves real emotional vitality. She's the best reason to see 1969, which can't even boast an acceptable pop-hits soundtrack to its dubious credit given its Woodstock epoch.

"The Wat at Home," which Emilio Estevez wrote and directed and starred in, is a far better bet.

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originally posted: 03/11/14 00:58:44
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User Comments

3/19/14 Aprllivm When prime, the two neighbours.Before that, unfortunately because of rising interest rate m 5 stars
1/17/04 J Just die already!!!!! 2 stars
4/08/03 Jack Sommersby Dull and unsurprising. About as forgettable as last week's grocery list. Good acting. 2 stars
3/16/02 Jenny Tullwartz Winona Rider's best performance, though script is flawed. 4 stars
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  27-Jan-1989 (R)
  DVD: 16-Apr-2002



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