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'Sr' review: Robert Downey Jr. pays tribute to his late father in tender documentary

Courtesy of Netflix


Everyone knows who Robert Downy Jr. is or, at least, have some idea. The anointed frontman for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, arguably the world’s biggest franchise, as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, Downey Jr. is a recognizable name and face, but it’s easy to forget, or perhaps you didn’t know, the highest paid actor in the world is the offspring of gritty, art-house B-movie royalty. The new documentary “Sr,” acts as a touching tribute to Jr’s pops, Roberty Downey Sr., an independent filmmaker who’s run in the late ‘60s and ‘70s helped usher in a new era of cinematic nuance and gave Downey Jr. the acting bug at a very young age. Directed by Chris Smith, “Sr,” offers an engaging view of the career Downey Sr. led and the iconic legacy he left behind. 

Shot in black-and-white in what’s obviously a nod to the 16mm, low-budget films Sr. used to make, “Sr” turns the camera on the ardent filmmaker and even lets him direct some of the shots. Produced and conceived by Downey Jr., the documentary might not break unexpected ground, but it does show the rawness of the father/son relationship at the film's center. It’s about trying to make amends for the past while striving towards a better future. The results tug at the heartstrings and showcase an innovator known for his off-the-cuff antics and disregard for the posh studio making system. He was a disruptor and he knew it. 

Films like 1970’s audacious “Pound” (a film about dogs awaiting their execution except it's acted by real humans) and 1969’s “Putney Swope” are given the highlight reel treatment as some of the films that defined Sr.’s filmography. Even a Life magazine article entitled “Robert Downey Makes Vile Movies” added to the director’s enigma and Downey Jr., who grew up in a crib that sat five feet from the editing bay and fell asleep to the sounds of clap tracks, explores the fundamentals of what made Sr. tick despite keeping an arms length at certain discoveries, namely the passing of his mother. 

Regardless, Sr.’s professional career is well packaged in this sweet 90-minute package that should play well on Netflix (ironic considering Sr would likely be making the brunt of his non-commercial films for streamers had they been released today). An interesting development throughout the course of the film, however, sees Smith occasionally handing over the reins to Sr. and letting him dictate the shots, narrative, and also the music choices. The film intercuts these moments within the film, creating a fascinating art that reflects reality experience. All the while, Jr. stands by in the wings, happily re-introducing his father to the world and his son who travels with him on what would be their final trip to see the Sr. 

It’s evident the compassion and love both men had for each other and the darker moments of the doc, when it addresses Jr. and his battle with drug addiction, help smooth over the film's occasionally subdued messaging. Art can offer a gateway to healing, and “Sr” not only immortalizes a great director, but an even better father who understood that, in order to be heard, you must first listen. 

Grade: B 

Sr debuts on Netflix Friday, December 2nd. 


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