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OUR SOULS AT NIGHT

I love watching Robert Redford. He still has the effortless charisma that made him a star more than fifty years ago, and he’s ideally matched with Jane Fonda in Our Souls at Night. It’s their fourth collaboration; they are clearly comfortable together and accepting of their status as senior citizens. Whether audiences are as flexible about this matter is an open question; there is a temptation to want our movie stars to remain frozen in time. But Our Souls at Night could have been written with these actors in mind, and they adopt their fictional identities the way you or I would slip on an old shoe.

The source material is the final novel by Kent Haruf, but the set-up resembles an old movie device known as “meeting cute.” In a small, picturesque Colorado town, Fonda knocks on neighbor Redford’s door. They are both widowed and while they have long been aware of each other they have never had much contact. Fonda doesn’t hesitate to state her purpose in visiting: she’s lonely in bed at night and wonders if he’d be willing to come across the street and sleep with her. It’s not sex she’s after but companionship. He is dumbfounded by the proposition at first, but the next day he calls her and agrees to give it a try. Before long they are keeping company and setting tongues wagging in their community. (The prime gossiper is played by Bruce Dern, a nice in-joke given his onscreen history with both costars.)

Inevitably, the plot thickens as Fonda’s son (Matthias Schoenaerts), who’s come upon hard times, drops off his young son (Iain Armitage) to stay with his grandma for a while. Redford becomes a de facto grandfather to the boy, which doesn’t sit well with Schoenaerts. Issues of parenting, aging, and mortality are all introduced and dealt with honestly and tastefully in the course of the narrative.

Director Ritesh Batra, who made his mark on world cinema with the charming Indian film The Lunchbox, never pushes too hard and doesn’t have to. The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber unfolds in unhurried fashion, allowing us to spend quality time with two highly watchable movie stars. This is the allure of Our Souls at Night and anyone who thinks of that as a pleasurable experience will not be disappointed.

The film opens in New York and Los Angeles today and is simultaneously playing on Netflix.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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