Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.
Release Date: September 29th, 1977 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Sydney Pollack Actors: Al Pacino, Marthe Keller, Anny Duperey, Walter McGinn, Stephan Meldegg, Romolo Valli, Jaime Sanchez
ave Grusin’s sometimes jazzy and often emotional soundtrack may be the only saving grace for this obscure 1977 Al Pacino project. It’s one of director Sydney Pollack’s least-known movies – and rightfully so, thanks to poor pacing, construction, and storytelling (adapted by Alvin Sargent from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque). With picturesque countryside cinematography overshadowing inside-the-cockpit video game-like camerawork (during the only real race scene), the film has no action as advertised and the predominant romantic drama is more aggravating than heartfelt.
Racecar driver Bobby Deerfield (Al Pacino) is distraught and confused over the death of a good friend on the track. Drowning out the idea of operator error, he desperately searches for a reason for the tragedy, if only to appease himself. During a visit to a rehabilitation center, where another racer who was hurt in the accident resides, Bobby meets Lillian Morelli (Marthe Keller), a mysterious and spontaneous woman who invariably asks irregular questions. As Deerfield finds himself incurably attracted to the nonreciprocal Lillian, he engages in a new struggle to decipher her irrationalness as she passively stays at a distance.
Sydney Pollack, the Academy Award-winning director of such critically acclaimed films as “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa” steps out of his generally masterful form to produce this cinematic grog. Though the acting isn’t entirely awful, and the scenery is visually appealing, the story never really knows where it wants to go. After the first half-hour, audiences will be quite puzzled as to the purpose and focus; it’s not much of a racing movie, nor is it adventurous or thrilling, instead meandering toward the style of a slow-moving drama laced with mild, lovelorn romance.
The film seems to push the idea that everything is sweeter if risk is involved – but whatever chances Pollack took with his storytelling techniques certainly prove fruitless. Lillian is highly unpredictable, but in an annoying way – one that will make viewers perceive her as disparaging rather than amusing. As she continually makes impromptu, reasonless decisions, and teases Deerfield with airy, seductress banter, it seems he would sooner leave her than fall more uncontrollably in love. His infatuation is coaxed by mystery alone; when he finally tries to accept her crazy mood swings and penchant for nonsensical lies, pity becomes the only appropriate emotional response for his descent into equivalent madness.
Deerfield’s abandoning of Lydia (Anny Duperey), a hopelessly enamored fan – who always appears as the obvious, superior choice for the daredevil racer – makes even less sense. At least the dialogue during a few rare moments is humorous, while the camera often lingers on the lovely scenery of Paris. But as a whole, “Bobby Deerfield” is devoid of an affecting plot or relatable characters or anything beyond sequences of madness tied together with unlikely, unconvincing romance. It also leaves too much for assumption at the conclusion – further assuring that this forgettable mess will remain one of Pacino’s most unknown pictures.
– Mike Massie