Monday, March 10, 2014
COUNTDOWN (1968) - Robert Altman
You don't usually think of Robert Altman in space. You probably don't think of the Caan Man up there either. Their talents, it seems, are better suited for solid ground. It's a relatively slow-moving race to space drama.
Those damned Russians have jumped the gun and launched a civilian up to the moon, and it's up to James Caan and NASA to put their training into overdrive, try and plant the stars and stripes first. For civilian Caan, that means stealing the primo spot out from under first-in-line and more qualified military man Robert Duvall, who grumbles and protests but eventually trains him. Their testy relationship is the best thing about Countdown, a low-key precursor to later, better fraternal fireworks in The Godfather and The Killer Elite. Neither Altman or Caan have quite hit their '70s mojo in this film. You can almost feel them both bucking at the edges of their formula thriller frame. It gets better once Caan gets up in the moon's orbit, begins to sweat a lot and make a few "maverick" choices, giving you a hint of things to come in both men's later careers.