Some would say talk-show host Morton Downey Jr. was a smart man. Others would comment but they may be too busy plugging their ears from his ranting and raving.
Movie goers can see that filmmakers Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger easily fall into the former category. With their new doc Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, the trio starts from Morton’s early years – where he was known as the smiley Sean Morton Downey – and proceed through his controversial career as a man with a patriotic mission statement.
The Morton Downey Jr. Show was known for Downey Jr’s confrontational interviewing. Guests ranging from the very political to stars of schlock would be invited to debate. According to the documentary, many of these interviews would boil down to the agitated host proclaiming his disdain. The guests would either stand their ground or leave the set in a huff. Either way, the audience was loving it. They were relieved that someone with a brass pair would speak proudly for the everyday American.
It’s clear that Morton Downey Jr. had screen presence. Even if you didn’t believe in his political views, you could at least understand that the man throughly knew how to work a crowd. He had a clear comprehension of theatrics and how he could utilize different showy tactics to create a buzz that would then evolve into what some would compare to be a lynching crowd.
The most interesting parts of Évocateur are the moments when friends and family reflect on Downey Jr.’s impact on pop culture. The segments that are immensely interesting are the talks that take place with ex-crew members that worked on The Morton Downey Jr. Show. They aren’t afraid to admit what worked, what didn’t work, and their opinions on Morton’s graceless and gradual disconnect from his prime audience.
Kramer, Miller, and Newberger’s doc becomes a cathartic tool for those they are interviewing. Thoughts from the aforementioned groups as well as die hard fans of Downey Jr.’s work are edited in an honest way that suggest different methods to Morton’s madness.
However, on a grand Venn diagram, all the opinions agree that the loud host was always seeking acceptance. There was a lack thereof from his famous father and suddenly a massive wave of it coming from his aberrant audience. It’s enough evidence to warrant such a conclusion. The filmmakers stay away from contrivances and let these similar ideas merge, making a larger theory. It’s very easy for us to muster.
Although the filmmaking Musketeers triumphantly capture that ferocity that grabbed thousands of eyes across America, as well as making a movie that feels as heated and impassioned as its subject, there is a hiccup. Things get shaky when Kramer, Miller, and Newberger confuse hyperactivity for fierceness. There are portions of Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie where the pacing gains too much speed. Talk show footage is cut quickly while being intercut with video filters and crowbarred animated sequences.
It almost plays as a fan-made “Best Of” at times showing us the most memorable blowouts on The Morton Downey Jr. Show. It truly shows that the intense fandom attached to the provoking host is hard to hide.
But, Morton Downey Jr.’s story is captivating from beginning to end. He makes for a terrific anti-hero. Audiences will be rooting for him and be immediately taken back by some of the more perverse behaviour. I found myself going through emotional push-and-pulls throughout this timeline as I laughed along with Downey Jr. followed by a sting during Morton’s profanity-laced nastiness during the not-so-pretty years.
Even outside the documentary format, this story is magnetic. It’s a riveting rise-and-fall that offers insight to someone that proves to be a lot more enigmatic than we thought.