1969 (1988)    0 Stars

“The year the country split apart and a generation came together.”


1969 (1988)

Director: Ernest Thompson

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Kiefer Sutherland, Bruce Dern

Synopsis: Two friends live in a small-minded town at the onset of wide public dissatisfaction with the Vietnam war.




This tale of two teenage friends experiencing life in the last tumultuous year of the sixties is written by Ernest Thompson, the man who won an Oscar for writing On Golden Pond and who has done little of any real worth since. It is quite clearly an autobiographical tale, or at least a fictional tale woven around Thompson’s memories of his own youth — which perhaps goes some way towards explaining its loose structure and almost non-existent plot.

Kiefer Sutherland plays Scott — presumably Thompson’s alter-ego — a naive and idealistic 19-year-old who joins college with his best friend Ralph (Robert Downey Jr.) to avoid being drafted into the army and shipped out to Vietnam, the fate that has befallen his older brother. The film focuses on the boy’s experiences during their last summer of innocence, but nothing much really happens. They go to San Francisco, sit in a bar, then come straight home again. Ralph overdoses on LSD, while Scott falls in love with his (Ralph’s) younger sister, and grows increasingly adrift from his war-hero father (Bruce Dern) over the war in Vietnam. Watching it, you get the impression that this must all be heavily evocative stuff for writer/director Thompson, but for the rest of usit’s all pretty dull. You sit there waiting for something meaningful to happen, something interesting that might at least make you give a damn about the people involved. You wait and you wait and, five minutes from the end credits, Thompson pulls out some ‘inspiring’ and ‘uplifting’ bilge that is truly horrible to watch. I really mean that — it’s horrible. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening — or that a screenwriter of any merit would expect us to believe that the characters’ deeply ingrained convictions about a subject as complex as that which he has tried to tackle could be swept aside so superficially.

The performances are OK, and it’s a shame more screen time wasn’t given to Joanna Cassidy as the semi-alcoholic mother of Ralph and Beth (Winona Ryder) — despite her habit of hugging everyone. Unfortunately, other than Dern as Scott’s uptight father — who, as the symbol of his generation’s conservative ideals, becomes an increasingly ridiculous and estranged figure as the story unfolds — Thompson pays only cursory attention to the parents. Sadly, the kids don’t really have that much to offer, and simply drift along the way kids do. I suppose Thompson got that right at least; but aimless kids are only good for minor sub-plots — not the focus of an entire movie.

(Reviewed 3rd October 2005)