Prior to his death in 2021, US filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. took part in a documentary. Today, that documentary arrives on Netflix in the shape of Sr.
Directed by Chris Smith, Sr. is an intimate and fairly frank account of Robert Downey Sr.’s life, with a specific focus on his career and his relationship with his son, Robert Downey Jr.. The docu-film looks at his larger-than-life character, his passion for filmmaking, and the bond he shared with his family.
Featuring snippets from his movies, interviews with family and friends, and an ongoing narrative about his latest project, Sr. is a fascinating and poignant journey, which documents his final years. The docu-film begins in 2019, with Robert Downey Sr. battling Parkinson’s Disease, and continues through to his decline in health and his subsequent passing.
What’s interesting about Sr., is just how open the movie is. This film – which is shot almost entirely in black and white – throws the spotlight on Robert Downey Sr. to show the kind of person he was, offering up conversations and insights into his films, as well as his approach to his art, and the knock-on effect his career had on his son.
Some of the discussions and insights are positive, a few are quite reflective, and one or two scenes are very touching. The movie offers up plenty of behind-the-scenes material, lots of honesty, and a touch of humour too.
At no point does the film dive into any deep regrets or overly negative conversations, this film is more an exploration of one man’s final years, surrounded by those who love him. And love is a key word here, because at the heart of this docu-film is a story about the love which exists specifically between father and son.
Sr. offers up plenty of moments which show how close both Downey’s (Sr. and Jr.) were, and how intertwined their lives became. Take away the excitement and magic of the film industry, and the ups and downs that happened along the way, and there is still very much a story about the connection between two people, and this is what really drives this film.
Presented with energy, a likeable tone, and with plenty of insights and old footage, Sr. is a fitting tribute to a father, a grandfather, a husband, and a creator. It allows a new generation to learn and understand who Robert Downey Sr. was, and in turn what he meant to those he leaves behind.
The film is likely to produce a tear or two at the end, so do be warned. However, the more uplifting moments of the documentary balance out some of the sadness.