Altman (4 stars)


Brisk yet insightful documentary celebrating the legendary American filmmaker

Robert Altman remains the very definition of a maverick filmmaker. He worked inventively with the resources of big Hollywood studios when such a thing was possible, and made the most of the greater creative freedoms that came with the smaller budgets of the independent artisan.

Throughout the extremes of immense success (M*A*S*H, The Player etc) and abject failure (Quintet, Beyond Therapy etc), Altman remained steadfast to his vision of what filmmaking should be. He collided with mainstream taste frequently enough to sustain his career as a film director through four decades of what he liked to refer to as 'building castles in the sand'. Receiving an honorary Oscar towards the end of his life, he proudly claimed that he never directed a film that he didn't want to make.

Ron Mann's brisk documentary is largely narrated by Altman's widow Kathryn and takes a jaunty stroll through a career that stretched from the 40s through his early successes in episodic television to such landmarks as McCabe & Mrs Miller, Tanner '88 and Short Cuts. What it lacks in depth is made up for in how comprehensively it covers Altman's work, showing how he developed his trademarks of large ensemble casts, overlapping dialogue, genre subversion and a desire to capture the political temperature of America at key moments in its existence.

Altman collaborators from Elliott Gould to Julianne Moore, Robin Williams and Lily Tomlin give their definition of the adjective 'Altmanesque' and cinema buffs are rewarded with glimpses of family home movies, on-set footage and lengthy archive interview sequences that allow Altman to tell his story in his words. It's a warm and insightful profile of the man and his movies that inevitably leaves you wanting to revisit some of his classics, or watch them for the very first time.

Selected release from Fri 3 Apr.


  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • 1h 35min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Ron Mann
  • Cast: Robert Altman, Kathryn Reed
  • UK release: 3 April 2015

Brisk but comprehensive documentary about Robert Altman, the maverick filmmaker who worked inventively with Hollywood studios back when that was still possible, showing how he developed his trademark uses of large casts, overlapping dialogue, genre subversion, etc. A warm and insightful profile which makes you want to…