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‘Sr.’- Film Review: A Tender, Touching Tribute From A Son To His Father

Dec 18, 2022

Sr.”, is the touching new documentary (directed by Chris Smith) about late filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.

Can we call it a tribute to a unique artist or is it to be seen as a grand farewell? Does the film exist as a celebration of the purity of filmmaking and one of cinema’s boldest auteurs? Is the film a love letter from a son to his father and a bridge connecting three generations?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. The film is a celebration and a love letter from a son to his father, blanketed by the heartbreaking reality of eventually having to say goodbye to a parent.

Shot in L.A. and New York, the black-and white photography is both a tribute to the early Downey Sr. films and a soft canvas on which the raw emotions become more deeply felt.

Robert Downey Sr. made his bones as an underground filmmaker, creating low budget counterculture movies that were a big middle finger to “The Man” and the hypocrisy of racism, politicians, religion, and anything else that turned the country he loved upside down.

His unique style was absurdist Art (the crux of his fist hit “Putney Swope”) that would later be infused with profound emotion. “Greaser’s Palace” and “Hugo Pool” are two Downey Sr. films that reach for your heart if you let them.

A documentary about this man’s work alone would make for a good film. Director Chris Smith and Robert Downey Jr. have deeper plans.

If the art is the man and the man is his art, who then is the father and husband?

In discovering the real Downey Sr. through the eyes of his son, the film becomes a look at the deep bonds of family and the power in which grief both cripples and teaches us.

Shot over three years, the documentary follows Robert Downey Sr.’s physical decline due to Parkinson’s disease. In that time, Robert’s Sr. and Jr. seem to bond closer than they ever had.

The two men talk about their shared experiences good and bad; Downey Sr.’s drug addiction in the 70’s and his son’s well-documented drug issues and prison term that played out in the public eye.

What is fascinating about these confessions is how their related issues made them stronger in the end. The son doesn’t blame the father, but the father blames himself.

There is guilt and remorse, but above all else, there is forgiveness and acceptance.

We learn so much about father and son through clips of wives and mothers, sons and grandsons.

Jr.’s mother Elsie Downey was in many of her husband’s films and existed as a muse for Downey Sr. and a sweet memory for Jr. Elsie died in 2014.

Sr.’s second wife (Laura Ernst) died of ALS at 36.

Through the footage and stories of his time with these women, we find a man who was certainly flawed, yet tender and loving. If Downey Sr. was restless in his work, his love for each woman was strong and true.

It is obvious Robert Downey Jr. took important life lessons from his father. The best being his relationship with his children. As with his own poppa, we can see the actor’s joy in being a parent.

In the film’s most heartbreaking (and heartwarming) sequence, Downey Jr. takes his young son Exton to see his grandfather for what is to be the final time.

Young Exton speaks to the camera of how he looks forward to spending precious time with his grandpa. The boy has the innocence of one his age yet the wisdom to know this will be a goodbye to Downey Sr.

The final moments with three generations together in one quiet room, just being together, are moving beyond words. You won’t soon forget them.

While Chris Smith is the director, Robert Downey Jr. is the conductor of it all. Through his undeniable charm and devotion to his ailing father, “Sr.” is a tender and affectionate work done with intimacy, admiration, and the purity of love.

 

Sr. 

Directed by Chris Smith

Starring Robert Downey Sr. & Robert Downey Jr., Paul Thomas Anderson, Alan Arkin

R, 89 Minutes, Team Downey/Library Films/Netflix

 

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