We’ve been immensely lucky to have him.
The Old Man and the Gun, scheduled to be released in late September, will be Redford’s last film, in which he stars as Forrest Tucker, a real-life career criminal, who robbed banks 17 times, went to prison 17 times, and broke out 17 times.
Redford was mum on whether or not he’d disappear from behind the camera as well, but I hope we’ll continue to see involvement in the film industry from him.
As we move toward Redford’s final on screen role, let’s take a look at some of the films that have helped to define his long and storied career.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
It’s difficult to think of Robert Redford without thinking of Paul Newman, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is where that association began. Redford stars as Harry Longabaugh, the titular Sundance Kid, alongside Newman’s Robert LeRoy Parker aka Butch Cassidy.
The film, based on the real lives of titular characters, was released in 1969 and helped Redford become a household name.
Despite being regarded as a classic now, upon its initial release it wasn’t regarded that favourably, with national reviews that were “mixed to terrible.” Yet since then it’s been “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes and the Writers Guild of America ranked its screenplay 11th on its 101 Greatest Screenplays list.
At the time Paul was a big-screen icon, and Robert was still a relative unknown. Newman fought to have Redford cast alongside him, and the rest is history. The two would remain friends until Newman’s death in 2008.
The Sting was my grandmother’s favourite movie, and I haven’t watched it since her passing eight years ago. This film pairs Paul Newman and Robert Redford together again, along with George Roy Hill, who directed the two in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The film follows two professional grifters, Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff (Redford and Newman), in their plot to con a mob boss during the Great Depression. As you can imagine, not everything goes according to plan, especially when the FBI get involved. There’s con on top of con in this film, and even though neither Hooker or Gondorff are good people, they are probably the least “bad” people, and you find yourself rooting for them.
Unlike their previous collaboration, The Sting opened to rave reviews upon release and has received many accolades and appeared on many lists ranking movie awesomeness. Along with this and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Redford made a name for himself in playing antiheroes, which he would revisit in later roles as well.
Three Days of the Condor
Whenever I think of Robert Redford, this is one of the films that immediately pops into mind. There is nothing more quintessential 1970s spy thriller than Three Days of the Condor, and there is no more quintessential leading man than Redford as Joe Turner. Joe is a CIA analyst, working at a clandestine office in New York City under the codename Condor. When the rest of his team is murdered, he goes on the run after a he discovers that a rendezvous with his handler is in fact a trap.
The film is an excellent example of a spy thriller, and the cat and mouse films that dominated the genre in the 70s. There’s nothing quite like them, and though they’ve been attempted in recent years, there’s a certain vibe that you just can’t replicate. Redford is amazing in his portrayal of Joe, who is just trying to stay alive.
Granted, Joe’s kidnapping and hostage taking of Kathy Hale (played by Faye Dunaway) kind of leaves a not-so-great taste in my mouth these days, but I think as long as we acknowledge that this film was a product of its time that it still makes for worthy watching.
Also, it’s Redford at his most babin’ (in my humble opinion).
All is Lost
This film will always hold a special place in my heart because it was one of the first that my partner and I saw together, at a little theatre that we both loved that no longer exists (I’ll never forgive you for this, Cineplex).
All is Lost follows a man sailing in the Indian Ocean, who wakes up to discover that water is flooding his boat. For the next 105 minutes, we watch as he tries to stay alive. Unfortunate event after unfortunate event befalls him, and we’re on the edge of our seat as Redford teaches a masterclass in making us feel like we’re on that boat with him.
Redford is the only cast member, and is credited only as “Our Man” on IMDb. This may be the most ambitious of his projects to date, because I feel like a lesser movie, a lesser actor, and a lesser director could not have put this together quite as well. The film has very little dialogue, and considering the length and scope of the film it’s very ambitious, but it works!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This one was naturally going to appear on my list, you all know how much I love Cap and Co. And it’s not just because it’s a Captain America film that it’s appearing here on my list, it’s why Redford wanted to do it. He told IGN in 2014 that he wanted to experience something new.
“The Avengers series is a product of high technology playing a major role in the new order of filmmaking so I wanted to experience that—I just wanted to know what that was like and I had that opportunity, so for me it was like stepping into new terrain just to experience what it was like.”
Redford was cast as Alexander Pierce as an homage to his roles in 1970s thrillers. And considering that The Winter Soldier has a 70s era spy thriller vibe there is no better actor to cast in that type of movie than Robert Redford.
One of my favourite stories from the set remains that Sebastian Stan was so starstruck about acting alongside Redford that he ran into a refrigerator. Who among us wouldn’t have?
All the President’s Men
For me, there’s no more iconic, no more career defining role of Robert Redford’s than that of Bob Woodward in 1976’s All the President’s Men. It seems especially topical now given the current political climate in the United States, as it follows two journalists at the Washington Post investigating the Watergate scandal.
As Woodward, Redford stars alongside Dustin Hoffman’s Carl Bernstein. The two journalists begin to see what began as a simple burglary arraignment is connected to something much bigger than anyone could possibly fathom. The burglars have CIA ties, and those ties eventually lead to Richard Nixon’s Special Counsel. And so on, and so forth.
The pace of the film is often hurried, and while we know the outcome here, we can’t help but sit on the edge of our seats. Part of what has made Redford such a thrilling actor to watch is that he really takes you out of your environment and drops you into his. There are actors where, even though I like them, I had a difficult time not thinking “Well, yes. That’s [actor].” But with Redford it’s always been “That’s Woodward. That’s Turner. That’s Hooker.” All the President’s Men isn’t just my favourite role of his, but probably also his most important.
Robert Redford has been acting for longer than most of us have been alive, so it’s difficult for me to imagine a world of cinema in which he won’t be attached to any new projects. Thankfully, he’s left us the movies mentioned above, along with a back catalog that even TCM might struggle to show over a weekend.
I’m left thinking of one of Redford’s lines in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; “You’ve shaped the century.” And in the world of cinema I think that he certainly has. From the roles that he’s portrayed, to the things that he’s done for the film community, there’s so much of how film looks now that we have Robert Redford to thank for.