While moving from Actor to Director seems like the natural career advancement in Hollywood, few have done so as successfully as Robert Redford. Sometimes the Director role is hesitantly accepted, as was the case with Mel Gibson. Occasionally you’ll run across an actor who has Directing aspirations very soon after they start acting on the big screen. While Redford’s Directorial debut (Ordinary People (1980)) was the film which garnered him his first (and only) Oscar (for Best Director), he has made many contributions to the film world, both on and off the screen. And yet, it is important to understand where certain directors have come from, especially if their roots are based in acting in front of the camera, instead of directing from behind it. This week’s two films examine some exceptional Robert Redford roles.
Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours
Even though Redford has been nominated for Best Director one other time (for Quiz Show (1994)), the only time he’s been nominated for an Acting Oscar was for his role in the 1973 Best Picture, The Sting. This might be surprising to some, considering that Redford has had many quintessential roles in films like All the President’s Men (1976), The Natural (1984), and Out of Africa (1985). Part of Redford’s charm, especially in his early career, came from his boyish good looks, and The Sting is no exception. After all, he wouldn’t have been cast as the Sundance Kid years earlier if he didn’t possess the look of a younger man. Fortunately, the looks matched the charisma. And if there’s anything that is truly needed in order to pull off a successful confidence scheme, it would have to be charisma.
In The Sting, Robert Redford portrays Johnny Hooker, a grifter and con man who has just crossed the wrong man. After completing a scam which garnered $11,000 for him and his team, he is chased to Chicago by Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw): the mobster who is now $11,000 poorer. Once in Chicago, he looks up famous and retired con man, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and convinces him to take the mobster for much more. The FBI learns of this partnership and tries to use Hooker to get to Gondorff. Unfortunately, since Lonnegan is frustrated at being unable to find Hooker, he takes a hit out on the con man, which makes the game that much more dangerous. When larger and larger amounts of money end up being involved in a horse racing scam, the entire con is liable to explode into everyone shooting everyone else.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
Another key contribution that Robert Redford has made to the film industry was the founding of the Sundance Film Festival. Mainstream media may saturate the market, but you can always tell if an independent film can hold its own based on how well it does at Sundance. Of course, Sundance stems out of Redford’s love for Directing which, coincidentally enough, was an ambition which sprouted around the time he filmed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Thus, the origin of the name which is now tied to independent cinema was born. And yet, one wonders if the excellent on-screen chemistry of Robert Redford and Paul Newman spawned the duo to return to the screen four years later for another great buddy film: The Sting. Even though he had been in a few films before, this one in particular really defined Redford’s career.
Paul Newman is the Butch Cassidy to Redford’s Sundance Kid in this film about the outlaws of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang. After asserting his authority as leader of the group, Butch decides to do not one, but two train robberies on the Union Pacific. Even though the first robbery went well, the second one was botched when too much dynamite was used to blow open the safe (which was installed after the first robbery). While trying to hide from the authorities, the pair learns that they will be chased until they are killed, which causes them to jump into a canyon river in order to escape from one of the best trackers ever. Their escape leads them to Bolivia with Sundance’s lover, schoolteacher Etta Place (Katharine Ross). Unfortunately, they soon flip-flop between good and bad, eventually settling on what comes natural: bad.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Robert Redford roles
Bacon #: 2 (A River Runs through it (directed) / Brad Pitt -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)