I Can’t Decide How I Feel About Robert Redford

My opinions on Robert Redford tend to waver. For a time I thought of him as an exceptionally boring actor, but then I saw some performances that changed my mind… and again I continue to change my mind. Let’s take a trip back through all the Redford roles I’ve seen, chronicled in the order in which I saw them.

All the President’s Men (1976) – I think I saw this at the beginning of my junior year of high school, so that was around September or October 2008. There were some aspects of the film that I recall liking – Dustin Hoffman was as good as ever, Jason Robards was compelling – but overall I remember thinking that the movie was way too long (2 hours 18 min) and I started to doze off toward the end. Redford didn’t make much of an impression on me. Perhaps I just resented the fact that I had to watch the film in conjunction with reading the book of the same title for my American history class. I should probably see the film again; there’s a chance I might appreciate it more now.

P.S. Technically, the first Robert Redford film I saw was Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), but that was so long ago that I hardly remember anything about it, except for the fact that my great-uncle Jerome was in it. Ditto A Bridge Too Far (1977), which I saw years ago as well.

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988) – I watched this Redford-directed exercise in magical realism in a terrific Literature of the 80s and 90s class that I took in my last semester of high school, spring 2010. (The film was paired with our reading of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.) I remember thinking that the film was quite lovely, even with Christopher Walken’s villain menacing the protagonists.

Quiz Show (1994) – This is the film that really made me a fan of Redford as a director. He elicited great work from Ralph Fiennes (pictured above), John Turturro, Paul Scofield, Rob Morrow, Hank Azaria, David Paymer, Christopher McDonald, Mira Sorvino and even Martin Scorsese. You should definitely see this film.

Sneakers (1992) – Redford stars in this boring “comedy” caper about computer hacking. No good, though it’s fun seeing him work alongside Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd and River Phoenix (among others). This film set me back somewhat, making me feel like Redford was just too boring a screen presence to care anything about.

The Sting (1973) – George Roy Hill was a really excellent director and I can see why this is heralded as one of his greatest triumphs. Although I have not seen the earlier Hill-Newman-Redford collaboration Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), it’s obvious that Redford and Paul Newman had great comic chemistry. Plus Edith Head’s costumes are delightful. Overall I enjoyed it.

“The Twilight Zone” episode “Nothing in the Dark” (1962) – This is my second favorite episode of the series, topped only by the intensely creepy “The Hitch-Hiker” (1960). In “Dark,” Redford plays an injured cop who begs elderly Gladys Cooper to let him into her apartment and help him. Cooper is terrified of letting him inside because she fears he is actually the Grim Reaper. Young Redford is quite good here, giving his character a nice sense of compassion towards the old woman.

“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode “The Right Kind of Medicine” (1961) – Redford plays a criminal on the lam, a real bad boy. Another decent early role, granting him the opportunity to actually act.

The Company You Keep (2012) – Redford’s latest opus directed by and starring him is an annoyingly tepid thriller with a fabulous cast (besides the man himself, there’s also Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Elliott, Stanley Tucci, Terrence Howard, Stephen Root, Anna Kendrick… even Shia LaBeouf isn’t too bad in the film). There are some terrible moments of Redford running (or attempting to), so I guess that constitutes the “entertainment” portion of your viewing time.

The Great Gatsby (1974) – Wait a minute, this movie is fantastic. I’m not a huge fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing (well, except for the short story “Winter Dreams,” which I suppose isn’t too far removed from the sphere of Gatsby), but this adaptation of Fitzgerald’s most enduring novel is a really beautiful film. Redford gives an understated, subtle performance as the title fellow.

All Is Lost (2013) – Ugh, this one, though. I thought All Is Lost was terrible. I’ll write a blog post on the film soon, but in short, it’s a bad film with barely a working script. I don’t know if I believe in the rumors I’ve read about Redford having had plastic surgery, but it’s kind of unfortunate to see how he’s aged when he still looked relatively handsome a decade ago. Yes, I’m more interested in Redford when he was prettier. So sue me.

Up Close & Personal (1996) – And now I’m back to being a sorta-kinda fan. Redford is downright charming in this incredibly cheesy chick flick. So where does that leave me? Sure, I want to see Butch Cassidy, The Candidate, The Way We Were, Three Days of the Condor. Heck, I’ll even test-drive Indecent Proposal. But it may be some time before I try An Unfinished Life or Lions for Lambs. The root of the problem would appear to be that I’m mainly interested in the younger, better-looking versions of Robert Redford. Oh well. That’s the way the cinematic world works sometimes.

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