I'll say this for 1969, the directorial debut of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Ernest Thompson (who won the Oscar for adapting his own play On Golden Pond): it is a movie that means well. If sincerity and good intentions could a good movie make, 1969 would be a masterpiece. Sadly, it is not.
That's not to say there isn't a great deal to like in 1969. There is. The three lead performances, from the very young Kiefer Sutherland, Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder, are sweet and strong. The music is very good, if far too on-the-nose in that period movie "greatest hits" jukebox way. And it's hard to fault a movie that advocates this passionately for peace, even if it is somewhat maudlin and confused. When the movie focuses on the rift that existed in the late '60s between those who supported the war and those who opposed it, Thompson is on to something. But when it's just using the characters as mouthpieces to spout platitudes opposing a war that had been over for more than a decade at the time this movie was released, it is less successful.
There is a very specific type of movie that I have categorized in my brain that works best if you stumble upon it on regular broadcast TV (not even cable, more like a UHF channel) on a Sunday afternoon. 1969 is exactly that kind of movie. It has enough things to like about it that it feels like a pleasant surprise but maybe not enough to justify multiple revisits. 1969 wants to be a grand political statement -- it desperately wants to be a drama that matters -- but at best it's a Sunday afternoon diversion.
That's a bummer, as 1969 -- flawed as it may be -- deserved a better fate and Atlantic, if it was going to be brought down at all, should have been taken down by something more bombastic and hubristic. 1969 is too well meaning to have that kind of failure laid at its feet. I'll always have a soft spot for the movie, which has good performances, a warm period feel and a big, naked heart. There are far worse cinematic crimes than sincerity.
DVD/Blu-ray release date: February 17, 2015
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Bonus features: Trailer
Buy 1969 from Olive Films here