Robert Redford announced in August that The Old Man & The Gun would be his final acting role. If so, he finishes on a film worthy of his talents (read our preview on page 35), and one that echoes some of his most popular roles. Redford may sometimes have seemed a reluctant star during his six decades in the business, but look back over his career and you see a man who pushed harder than he had to, and succeeded more often than he failed.
Redford got his start with a tiny role in 1960’s Tall Story, adapting a play in which he’d already appeared. Buoyed by Broadway success alongside his film work, he worked his way up through the ’60s in a succession of blond, pretty-boy roles of variable quality, but he quickly tired of playing the golden embodiment of the American ideal. Redford searched for new challenges and, with Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, he began to show his full range. This was a hero who alternated between daring bravado, pragmatic cowardice, and bone-deep cynicism – and audiences loved it. He would tap a similar vein of sardonic wit in his giddily delightful reunion with Paul Newman for 1973’s con-man caper, The Sting.
His retirement is not total: Redford has not formally quit directing or abandoned his still-close ties to Sundance
As the ’70s progressed, Redford’s star rose (The Way We Were, The Candidate, The Great Gatsby), but he still pushed himself and his films. He bought the rights to Woodward and Bernstein’s book about the conspiracy that brought down Nixon, and hired William Goldman to write the screenplay to All The President’s Men. The thriller made the impenetrable scandal feel real to a country still gripped by its aftermath. It changed Redford too, freeing him to tackle more political subject matter,on screen and in his personal life.
Acting success allowed him to do other things, too. He helped to establish the Sundance Film Festival in 1978, and the Sundance Institute, to support independent filmmakers, in 1981. Then he turned to directing, making one of the most successful debuts ever with 1980’s Ordinary People, a Best Picture winner that also bagged Redford his only competitive Oscar (Best Director). His career has had its ups and downs, of course (The Milagro Beanfield War didn’t set the world alight), but through the ’90s and into the 21st century, Redford has never been more than a couple of years from a hit, whether it’s Indecent Proposal (1993), Spy Game (2001), or even a memorable superhero bad guy in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).
His retirement is not total: Redford has not formally quit directing, producing, or abandoned his still-close ties to Sundance. Over the last few decades, those have taken up more of his time than acting, and had a greater impact on the industry. Sundance has launched the careers of most American directors working today, and provides endless support to indie filmmakers around the world. The London edition of the annual festival takes place at Picturehouse Central and will return for its fourth instalment in 2019.
Yet it’s still the end of an era, as we bid farewell to Redford the star. He could have coasted by on his extraordinary looks and had a better career than most, but instead, this restless, driven and intelligent man gave us characters who have become indelible. Thanks to the Sundance Kid, to Jeremiah Johnson, to Bob Woodward, Redford may retire, but he’ll never really leave us.
The Redford Collection
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
Two small-time bandits live an idyllic outlaw life, until civilisation catches up with them, in the Old West and later in South America. This first pairing of Redford and Paul Newman wasn’t initially popular with critics, but audiences and the Academy rightly fell for it hard.
Redford’s second outing with Newman cast them as con men taking down a shady businessman (Robert Shaw). Scored by ragtime that makes it feel breezier than it should, it’s still one of the most successful films ever.
All Is Lost
Here’s the proof of Redford’s on-screen magnetism. At 77, he stars in this marine- disaster film as a lone -yachtsman facing a series of worst-case scenarios. He holds the screen, despite a total lack of supporting players, with only a few lines. As long as you don’t get seasick, it’s a riveting journey.