The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Robert Redford
Last week, we took at the career of action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger. This week’s subject is far less brawny, but in his own way just as much of an icon – both on and off screen.
There's no doubt that Robert Redford is one of the most important icons in the history of modern film. If his legacy was limited to his work in front of the camera, he'd already be more than worthy of being called a legend. Throughout his fifty-year career, Redford's probably never strayed to far from his comfort zone as an actor. He seems to realize that he has a range, but he plays it to perfection. From his two classic teamings with Paul Newman (BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING) to the real life intrigue of ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, to the paranoia of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, and the romance of OUT OF AFRICA, Redford always – to a certain extent – played Redford.
Handsome, sophisticated, and suave in a sort-of wholesome way, Redford has often played idealists and heroes. Off-screen, he seems to be a man of strong convictions and opinions, and truly it's his work off-camera that's made him a true hero of American cinema. While Redford mostly made his career in mainstream cinema (even his directorial projects – the the Oscar-winning ORDINARY PEOPLE were embraced by establishment) his passion for independent cinema and unconventional storytelling resulted in the Sundance Film Festival and Institute. As a frequent visitor to Park City, I can't even begin to do justice to what an amazing, passionate, film-saavy organization they've got going there. So many people, from Quentin Tarantino, to the Coen Bros to Doug Liman, Jon Favreau, Richard Linklater and more owe their careers to Sundance, and the man who made it all happen – Redford. I'd wager that outside of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, there's not another figure working in American film today who's done as much for the craft as Redford.
While Redford's best work with always be the Sundance Film Festival, in terms of his movies this is a tougher call than you'd think. If you look at my Top Five below, pretty much all of those movies are bonafide classics. Heck, even movies that didn't make the cut (like BRUBAKER, SNEAKERS and ALL IS LOST) are amazing. Still, as far as his absolute best goes, I'd have to choose BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. The impact of this movie cannot be overrated. Think of all your favourite buddy-pairs, like Riggs and Murtagh from LETHAL WEAPON, TANGO & CASH, and more. None of them would exist without Butch & Sundance. Whether or not Paul Newman and Robert Redford's portrayal of the outlaws have any semblance to their real-life counterparts doesn't matter. Here, “reel” life is arguably more important than “real” life anyhow. Even though they only made two movies together, Newman & Redford are arguably the most iconic buddy-pair of all time, and this is their masterpiece.
Last summer, I finally sat down and watched THE WAY WE WERE. While many consider this a classic, I was surprised at what a soapy, often dopey movie this wound up being despite its classic status. Barbara Streisand and Redford have virtually no chemistry, and of the pair Redford fares especially bad, with his WASP-y golden boy coming off as a brainless him-bo, who abandons his “true love” because she just can't keep her mouth shut and fit in. This hasn't aged well at all, although the theme song is good. It should also be said, Redford made for a boring Jay Gatsby in THE GREAT GATSBY.
One of Redford's best (and toughest) roles was in JEREMIAH JOHNSON. While it was a smash in the seventies, nowadays it's somewhat obscure. It's ripe for rediscovery. Redford plays a mountain man who aspires to live the live of a hermit. Through circumstance, he's forced to adopt a surrogate family, including an Native wife, and an orphaned child, and to his surprise he ends up finding true happiness as a husband and father. His ideal life is ruined when the U.S Army forces him to violate sacred Native ground, which leads to a blood feud with a local tribe, who slays his family and sends their best warriors to kill him. To their surprise, he ends up being a more than worthy opponent. If this sounds like a generic revenge thriller, you'd be wrong as JEREMIAH JOHNSON never goes in the direction you'd assume.
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN is filled the the brim with memorable scenes, but none is more famous than Redford, as the real-life Bob Woodward's, encounter with the shadowy Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) who helps him blow the lid off Watergate by telling him to "follow the money."
5. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR
4. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
3. JEREMIAH JOHNSON
2. THE STING
1. BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID
Fresh from his acclaimed turn in ALL IS LOST, Redford's shaking things up a bit by appearing in the massive CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, where he plays S.H.I.E.L.D operative Alexander Pierce. Following that, he teams with the comedy-drama A WALK IN THE WOODS, opposite future Good/Bad/Badass subject Nick Nolte.