Review Roundup: Critics Weigh in on HBO's ARTHUR MILLER: WRITER
One of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, Arthur Miller created such celebrated works as "Death of a Salesman" and "The Crucible," which continue to move audiences around the world today. He also made headlines for being targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthy Era and entering into a tumultuous marriage with Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe.
Told from the unique perspective of his daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller, Arthur Miller: WRITER is an illuminating portrait that combines interviews spanning decades and a wealth of personal archival material. Providing new insights into Miller's life as an artist and exploring his character in all its complexity, the documentary is now available on HBO.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Verne Gay, Newsday: It's probably impossible for any film to sum up such a long, complicated life as Miller's, but this one makes the case that the attempt is best left to a daughter - a deeply empathetic and intelligent daughter, certainly, but one whose filial devotion appears boundless, too. Rebecca Miller spent decades collecting or recording much of this footage but in preparation for what, exactly, she never says. Maybe it was part of her own apprenticeship as an artist, or a desire to pin down precisely who her father is, or was, or simply an expression of that devotion.
Stephen Farber, Hollywood Reporter: Although the film should be described as a personal essay rather than a comprehensive biography, it does fill in the important details of Arthur's life. Rebecca accomplishes this with vintage photographs and excerpts from her father's plays as well as his autobiography, Timebends, but she relies primarily on interviews with other family members - Arthur's brother Kermit, sister Joan Copeland (an acclaimed actress), his two older children Robert and Jane - as well as with Arthur himself. He was a true child of the Depression, though his father had made a great deal of money in the garment industry, which all collapsed after the stock market crash of 1929. So the themes of business success and failure that informed Arthur's greatest play, Death of a Salesman, as well as his later work, The Price (revived this year on Broadway with Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shalhoub and Danny DeVito), came from a deeply personal well of family experience.
David Cote, Village Voice: It's a funny subgenre, the playwright doc. You can find decent ones on O'Neill (from Ric Burns), Kushner, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, and others. But they're inherently incomplete. On THE ONE hand, playwriting seems a less romantic occupation than the godlike and isolated novelist. Playwrights have to be social creatures. They may write in solitude, but they realize their visions in mini-communities of actors, directors, and designers. That sense of letting strangers into THE ROOM and taking the camera backstage where the art finds expression should, ideally, lead to an expansive portrait on film. But Rebecca Miller keeps the focus on the dogged, lifelong working man who built his own writing shed and hammered out a series of world-shaking dramas. It's a great story, and partly true, but there's more to it. Otherwise, the ironic takeaway would be: Arthur Miller wrote of society, even as he shut it out.
Sheri Linden, LA Times: Above all, it's the warm, searching conversations between father and daughter, whether they're seated side by side or she's questioning him from behind the camera, that give the documentary its poignant immediacy.
Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic: That documentary, which airs on HBO Monday night, is a true labor of love-a charming 100-minute film that offers an insider's account of a complicated life. Miller doesn't shy away from the messier moments in her father's biography, including the institutionalization of his youngest son, Daniel, who was born with Down syndrome. But it isn't her intention to dissect him, either. Arthur Miller: Writer is a family portrait defined by intimacy with its subject, captured in footage the filmmaker first started shooting in her 20s. The movie's at its most intriguing when it's parsing the strangeness of being closely related to someone so celebrated, who put so much of his life in his work. Rebecca's sister, Jane, recalls how, conversing with her father when she was younger, "There were times when he was only interested in something because he could use it."
Brian Lowry, CNN: Weaving in interviews with other stage titans like Mike Nichols and Tony Kushner, Rebecca Miller captures her father's enormous influence, as well as the shifting perceptions of it as America moved through the tumult of the 1960s. Still, it's Miller who gets the last word, when Charlie Rose asks what he would like his obituary to say. "Writer," Miller responds, exhibiting a gift for, among other things, understatement.