Barbra Streisand's Katie Morosky is stridently anti-war, virtually humorless and completely awash in steadfast Marxist idealism in the years before World War II. She meets All-American college athlete Hubbell Gardiner, played by a devilish Robert Redford, and sows the seeds of an unlikely connection. Director Sydney Pollack's drama then shifts forward to wartime, when Katie and Hubbell fall into one another's arms despite a number of signs that the relationship is doomed to fail. The film is starkly honest about marriage and optimism, and its overarching message is that not every love is meant to last. The film paints its politics a bit too black and white at times, but Pollack creates a moving, handsomely shot romance that spans several decades. Redford and Streisand are perfectly cast, with Streisand eliciting compassion for a character that could easily devolve into caricature. The Way We Were is a love story spruced up with politics and wartime fallout, but the leads smooth over any rough edges caused by the film's ambition.
We first meet Katie in the 1930s as she solicits her college campus to support American involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Her rhetoric is bombastic and her standard comeback is calling dissenters Fascists. Katie is devoted to the cause and overly involved in trying to change things outside her grasp, which results in much heartbreak. She briefly encounters Hubbell, a gifted writer and athlete who is on an unwavering path to war, whether he acknowledges the inevitable or not. Hubbell prefers casual conversation over drinks to Katie's political inquisitions, and they part for several years until Katie stumbles upon the on-leave Hubbell at a nightclub. An awkward conversation leads to sex, but Hubbell is gone at dawn. The Way We Were continues these chance wartime meet-ups, and the odd couple eventually marries.
The core of the film is a fairly standard love story with players not meant to be together. Directing from a script by Broadway legend Arthur Laurents, Pollack brings his typical class to the project, pulling performances out of Streisand and Redford that far surpass the material. The headline-hopping narrative is sometimes uneven, but it gives Streisand plenty of opportunity to rail on Hubbell's callous friends for their naivety and complacency in all things political. Katie at her most zealous is not particularly likeable, and much credit goes to Streisand for not completely alienating a more politically moderate audience with her character's Communist manifestos. Redford's easy charm seems the only damper to Katie's ire, and his Hubbell teaches her humor, self-depreciation and tolerance.
The politics of The Way We Were are only so-so, and the film backs down a bit save a few references to McCarthyism in the later reels. It's the aforementioned romantic core that makes the film memorable. Streisand reels in the audience and keeps them hooked throughout the film as Katie grows and matures. Redford begins as an everyday domestic hero but soon reveals a distinct lack of backbone and conviction. Katie's eventual Ah-Hah moment that Hubbell is little more than a handsome louse is both expected and heartbreaking. Katie moves to California so Hubbell can pursue a screenwriting career. As writing prospects dry up in Communist-averse Hollywood, Katie falls back on her long-dormant radicalism, which angers her coasting husband. Moments of dissention reveal that Katie and Hubbell are loving on borrowed time.
Many consider The Way We Were one of the best love stories of the era, and I can see the appeal. This is a very competent, professional film. Pollack shoots without pretense but with plenty of eye for framing and composition. Streisand and Redford are excellent, and take characters with only a couple of real motivators and make them into fully developed, flawed individuals. The ending is bittersweet, and The Way We Were has no clear winner, only awarding different levels of self-actualization to its leads. The film's political accessorizing isn't always necessary, but The Way We Were is a satisfying adult love story.
Licensed by Columbia Pictures to Twilight Time, The Way We Were looks fantastic on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer maintains a beautiful film-like appearance thanks to its natural, fluid grain structure and a surprising wealth of detail and texture. Colors are rich and perfectly saturated, from the greens of the college lawn to the reds of Katie's dresses and lipstick to Hubbell's khaki uniform. Contrast is spot-on, as are skin tones and black levels. Wide shots are deep and crisp, while close-ups reveal intimate facial detail. The print is completely clean, and I spotted no traces of noise reduction or edge enhancement. All in all, The Way We Were looks near-perfect.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also quite competent, and uses the surrounds to create a surprisingly deep sound field. Dialogue is clear and without hiss or distortion, and ambient effects like crowd noise during Katie's college-lawn speech and some drunken nightclub chatter expand to the rear speakers. The score is presented appropriately, too, and the track's overall clarity is excellent. You can also choose the 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix with Marvin Hamlisch's isolated score. English SDH subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Twilight Time releases The Way We Were as part of its Limited Edition Series, of which only 3,000 copies are available. The single-disc release arrives in a standard Blu-ray case that includes a booklet with text and pictures. Twilight Time ports over previous extras that add value to the package: An Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack and an Audio Commentary with Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. The director proves a knowledgeable host for his track, and Twilight Time film historians Kirgo and Redman provide much background and related information. There's also the lengthy documentary Looking Back (1:01:34/SD) and the film's Original Theatrical Trailer (2:25/HD).
Twilight Time's Blu-ray for The Way We Were is a must-own for fans of the film, as the picture and sound quality are excellent and a number of solid extras are included. The Sydney Pollack-directed romance has many fans, and lead actors Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford give affecting performances as incompatible lovers who spend the years surrounding World War II together. The film's political ambitions are a tad overstated, but the core romance carries The Way We Were past any narrative hiccups. Highly Recommended.