Before George Clooney came along at the movies, there was Robert Redford. All the words commonly used to describe the former were used for the latter: dashing, handsome and charismatic. Much like Clooney, Redford used to also headline a particular breed of mainstream film which has become rare at the theatres these days – the intelligent adult drama.
A few days ago, the Hollywood veteran revealed that after the two projects he was working on currently, he would retire from acting. Redford said he was tired of the job and added, “I’m an impatient person, so it’s hard for me to sit around and do take after take after take.”
The actor’s later professional years have been mostly devoted to directing but every now and then, he popped up in cameos (hello, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) to remind us of his compelling screen presence.
During his heyday though – the 70s – Redford was an exception to the norm of method acting virtuosos, whose uber-seriousness sometimes verged on bloviation.
He was always the old reliable, who combined movie-star magnetism with cool understatement. A flashback to some of the actor’s best work:
The Candidate (1972)
Redford is Bill McKay, a young hopeful running for a Senate seat in California. Although from a political family, McKay detests that world and pitches himself as the outsider, unafraid to veer off his scripting talking points.
The film’s unfussy shooting style is almost in the tone of a campaign documentary and it features one of Redford’s finest acting jobs. He plays McKay with a bemused reserve at first. As the story progresses, Redford begins to unspool the candidate’s frustrations, his sophisticated veneer hiding a raging inner conflict.
All the President’s Men (1976)
Sure, it’s Journalism 101 for the masses but All the President’s Men is also an example of Redford’s ability to square off against more kinetic actors.
In this thriller about The Washington Post’s investigation into the Watergate scandal, Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein is scrappy and frenetic. Redford, playing Bob Woodward, is the studious and unflappable yang to Hoffman’s yin.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
Joe Turner (Redford), a low-level CIA operative in New York, is forced to go into hiding after mysterious men assassinate his unit. Turner takes refuge in the home of a lonely photographer, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway), where he sets about uncovering some uncomfortable truths about his shadowy employers.
Redford’s hunted hero is in full-blown paranoia mode in this film. He could easily have turned it into a jumpy and over the top performance but instead, just as he often does, he keeps the character on slow boil, which makes the payoff in the end, far more devastating.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The film, about a crew of outlaws who call themselves the “Hole in the Wall” gang, is, by any measure, a Paul Newman showcase. In the stickiest of situations, Butch (Newman) has the cheekiest of rejoinders and his sardonic wit is the beating heart of this delightful entertainer. Redford, the Sundance Kid, is the strong, silent type here. Quite remarkably so, because it’s no mean feat to go up against Newman’s likeable charm and still make an impression.
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
In this whip-smart marital farce, Jane Fonda and Redford play house as Corie and Paul Bratter, newly-weds in New York with differing approaches to domestic life. She is a hippie adventuress, he seeks steadfast normalcy. Redford didn’t do much broad comedy in his career, which is a shame, because he is surprisingly good here as the deadpan straight man, in contrast to Fonda’s hysterical stylings.
All Is Lost (2013)
Redford’s latter-day acting filmography is patchy, at best, but this solitary drama about a sailor’s struggle to survive in the Indian Ocean was the perfect vehicle for him. As Redford so beautifully demonstrates, when it comes down to it, in acting, as in life, all you need are the bare essentials.