The best Robert Redford films ever

James Oliver

It's true—film stars are not like you and I. Look at Robert Redford. No, really: look at him. He's a bit craggier now than he was in his 1970s heyday, a wee bit more weather beaten. But he still looks pretty damn good. Not bad for 82

82! EIGHTY TWO! At an age when most of his contemporaries are sitting in a comfy chair and having a quick doze before Bargain Hunt—or at the very least advertising Werther's originals—Redford is still putting a shift in on movie sets.

He's been in pictures since 1960, making his first impression in a couple of roles opposite Natalie Wood (Inside Daisy Clover and Splendour in the Grass) before finding the roles that turned him into THE box office sensation of the 1970s.

He's got a new film coming out, The Old Man and the Gun it's called and he's said it's going to be his last. While we should always be wary of so-called “farewell tours”, it's perfectly possible that he actually means it. Hence this brief retrospective of (some of) his career highlights, showing just what he's worth, and why—if he really is calling time—he will be so missed.

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Back when he was young, people kept wanting to make Robert Redford a star. After all, he was good looking and personable—what's not to like? Trouble is, the lad Redford had a mind of his own. He didn't like the roles “They” were offering him—for instance, he turned down The Graduate (the role that made Dustin Hoffman's name) because—well, it just wasn't him.

So it wasn't until this (still much-loved) comedy western that the stars aligned. Starring opposite a big star like Paul Newman might have phased some actors but not our Bob; you'd never guess that he was still basically a rookie. Audiences approved and Redford duly assumed his place in the pantheon.

(The writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, by the way, was William Goldman. He's just passed away. No doubt Redford would have made it even without his help but the script Goldman wrote made Redford's path to the top that bit easier...) 

 

The Sting

It's just as well Redford and Paul Newman were friends in real life because, such was the love for Butch 'n' Sundance, people were insisting that there had to be another team up between them. 

The Sting is often criticised these days but while it’s indeed a bit on the long side, there's still a lot to enjoy in this twisty-turny tale of a long con, most especially the mega-watt charisma of the two leads.

Incredibly, this was the only time Redford was nominated for Best Actor. Something no doubt that the publicists for The Old Man and the Gun will be reminding Oscar voters when the nomination process starts.

 

The Way We Were

Redford's never had the cool cachet of someone like Robert De Niro or Al Pacino but don't think he was ever a conventional star. Take The Way We Were. It's a straightforward romance but it's notable as one of very few that he made.

And this is hardly a lowest-common-denominator melodrama; it's the story of the turbulent relationship between a writer and a left-wing radical played by Barbra Streisand. Sure, it's a good deal tamer than Taxi Driver or Dog Day Afternoon but it reveals how carefully Redford chose his roles, and how he sort to make the mainstream a better place.

 

All the President's Men

Bob Woodward is a legend in Washington, widely regarded as one of the greatest of journalists after his reporting on the Watergate break-in helped take down Richard Nixon. He does not, though, look much like Robert Redford, something that cynics have been commenting on ever since the actor was cast as the pressman in this film of their endeavours.

But don't hold that against Redford, who brings a real intelligence and focus to the role, ably assisted by Dustin Hoffman (less controversially cast as Woodward's colleague Carl Bernstein).

Woodward himself never complained that he was played by Robert Redford. But then, you wouldn't, would you?

 

Out of Africa

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, Redford took a bit of a breather to do other things, including begin what would grow into the Sundance Film Festival, an event to champion films very different to those he himself starred in.

Anyway, Out of Africa announced that he was back! back! back! It re-teamed him with Sydney Pollack, the director he worked with most (including on The Way We Were) and offered him a new co-star, Meryl Streep, here doing one of her most famous accents; she's playing a Danish countess and goes in all guns blazing (“I ha-a-hd a fa-hr-m in AHHHfrica”). Redford is playing an English hunter but denies us further accent amusement by speaking normally. For shame, Redford!

 

Sneakers

Not one of RR's best known or most acclaimed films but worth mentioning because it's so entertaining. It's about computer hackers, although the technical stuff has dated rather badly—how quickly the cutting edge goes blunt! Luckily, charm endures and this film has it in spades.

It's unintentionally poignant too. One of Redford's co-stars was River Phoenix, then the sort of pin-up that Redford had been thirty years before. Unlike Redford, he never for the chance to mature or stretch himself. Ah, what might have been.

 

Quiz Show

You will look in vain for Redford here, because he's not in it. It's included here because he directed it. Directing was something he'd started to do in 1980 with Ordinary People; he won an Oscar for Best Director for that but this is probably his best effort behind the camera.

It's based on a true story, of how the producers of a popular quiz show called Twenty One were discovered to have been cheating egregiously, the better to keep those ratings up: posh boy champion Ralph Fiennes might look like he knows all the answers but that's only because the people that run the show have been feeding it to him. It's not quite as profound as it might like to think it is but this is still smart, handsome entertainment.

 

All is Lost

Even in later life, Redford continues to make interesting choices; how many other actors would have said “yes” to a virtually dialogue-free film about a nameless sailor who gets into a proper pickle on the high seas? Quite apart from the physical exertions of the shoot (getting pelted with water non-stop for days on end might be a bit much even for a younger actor), there's no one to share the load.

But Redford always was a braver actor than he was given credit for, and—as All is Lost showed all over again—a far better one too.