Robert Redford announced that he is retiring from acting. The 81-year-old revealed his decision in advance of his upcoming film The Old Man & The Gun.
Between Redford’s involvement with the Sundance Film Festival and his tenure as an actor and director, he has enjoyed a singular career as a contributor to American cinema. He was nominated for four Academy Awards. He took home the Oscar for Best Director in 1980 (Ordinary People) and received a Lifetime Achievement nod in 2002.
I went through the actor’s filmography and found five of my favorite movies. As I selected the movies I was amazed at how many different types of characters he has played.
Without being an amorphous method actor, Redford has taken on as many different characters as well as any leading man of his generation. He has played an inmate, a political candidate, an investigator of politicians, athletes, soldiers, a gunfighter, and a Gatsby.
After his box office heyday, he appears to have been more selective in his film choices. That is an admirable contrast to veteran actors who have let their reputation slide by appearing in terrible movies for a paycheck.
My Favorite Robert Redford Movies
When I picked these five films, I chose the Robert Redford movies that blew me away the most. He has made so many movies that I was destined to leave out some great films. With apologies to Quiz Show, The Last Castle, and The Sting, here are my five favorite Robert Redford movies:
All The President’s Men (1976)
Robert Redford’s most important movie depicted the investigation of the Watergate break-in by The Washington Post. Redford played reporter Bob Woodward.
The scandal, which brought down Richard Nixon’s administration, made for one of the greatest newspaper movies of all-time. All The President’s Men was nominated for Best Picture, losing to Rocky.
Redford was instrumental in bringing the film to fruition. Not only did he star in the film, but he also purchased the rights of movie. Redford selected Dustin Hoffman to portray journalist Carl Bernstein over Al Pacino.
Spy Game (2001)
This is one of my favorite spy movies of all-time. An underrated film, Spy Game paired Robert Redford with Brad Pitt. The movie was set in 1991 as the United States and China are negotiating a trade deal. Redford plays CIA case manager Nathan Muir. Pitt is a field operative who was captured trying to free a love interest from a Chinese prison.
The intrigue from Spy Game comes as the CIA interviews Muir, who is working his last day with the agency before retirement. Muir details his relationship with Bishop and their covert operations in Vietnam, Germany, and Lebanon. The agency intends to let Pitt die in China, Muir has other plans.
Redford is excellent in Spy Game. He plays the coolest customer in the room throughout the entire movie. I love how Muir is constantly engaged in a chess match with the other characters. His best adversary in the film is Stephen Dillane, who plays a CIA deputy director.
The Candidate (1972)
This is another underrated Robert Redford movie. The first of his many political-themed films, The Candidate is a dramedy that follows a fictional California senatorial race.
Redford is outstanding as idealistic candidate Bill McKay. The son of a former governor, Redford is picked by a political operative (played by Peter Boyle) for his family name. Along the campaign trail McKay goes through different phases as a candidate. He says whatever he wants. He becomes generic to gain appeal. The candidate even grows a conscience during a debate.
Redford is outstanding as Bill McKay. His quiet charisma is a natural fit to play a young politician. A film that is in the mold of a less vulgar Armando Iannucci piece, The Candidate is a truly timeless movie. The subject matter will never fall out of style. Campaign promises and clueless politicians always make for great material.
Spoiler Warning: The Candidate has one of my all-time favorite endings. After Redford’s character wins the election, he retreats from his campaign’s victory party with his political handler. After the long cycle of promises and backroom deals, the overwhelmed McKay simply asks “What do we do now?” The question goes unanswered as throngs of supporters burst into the room.
Some of the most impactful moments in movies are the simplest ones. The final scene in The Candidate is a powerful condemnation of machine politics. A movie about an unqualified candidate winning an election that he was supposed to lose is a reminder of the smoke and mirrors of politics. The Candidate remains an important movie 46 years after it debuted in theaters.
The Natural (1984)
This is one of my favorite baseball movies. The Natural uses Arthurian mythology to tell the story of Roy Hobbs, a talented baseball slugger who is making a comeback after his career was derailed by a shooting. The role was inspired by baseball players Eddie Waitkus and Ted Williams.
Robert Redford is one of the best leading actors to have believably portrayed the athleticism of a baseball player. Unlike Gary Cooper (Pride Of The Yankees), Redford looked like he belonged on a baseball field. This is due to the actor’s pre-Hollywood baseball career. Redford briefly played baseball for the University of Colorado.
Redford played Roy Hobbs perfectly. He not only dusted off his baseball skills, but used his laid-back demeanor to portray the right fielder’s farm boy personality.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
This Western harnessed an iconic screen pairings and great writing, resulting in one of the best movies ever made. Paul Newman and Robert Redford hit it out the park as Butch Cassidy and his partner in crime “the Sundance Kid.” Loosely based on real-life outlaws, the film follows the duo as they rob trains, dodge a posse, and steal from banks in Bolivia.
In a sign that people with a platform (including your truly) do not always get it right, Roger Ebert gave Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 2.5 out of 4 stars. He panned the dialogue and chase scenes. The critic called it an attempt to copy Bonnie and Clyde.
In hindsight, it is amazing that Ebert missed how Redford and Newman’s chemistry carried those chase scenes. The pair had such an onscreen dynamic that those sequences were not a hindrance to the movie. Instead, they defined one of the best buddy films ever made. Panning the dialogue was also an incredible miss. William Goldman won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.