The Best Movie Ever | Best Robert Redford Movies
Robert Redford is an American icon: an instantly recognizable face and an enormous talent, who is responsible for some of the best films ever produced, both in front of and behind the camera. A Walk in the Woods isn’t one of those great films, but he keeps trying anyway, and audiences the world over appreciate his efforts.
So as we consider his latest, not so great film, we here at Crave decided to put our heads together and decide for ourselves, which of his films is the absolute best? Our critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – have each come up with the one film they would choose above all others as the pinnacle of Robert Redford’s achievements.
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So check out what they picked as the best Robert Redford movies, and come back next week for another topic in Crave’s long-running, highly debatable series: The Best Movie Ever!
Best Robert Redford Movies
Witney Seibold’s Pick: The Candidate (1972)
Robert Redford is charming, yes, but his charm can be tempered by a snarl.
In Michael Ritchie’s Oscar-winning film The Candidate (it won for Best Screenplay), Redford plays a resolute and plain-spoken left-wing politician who is convinced to run for the Senate, largely so his voice can be heard in the ocean of smarmy lies and compromise that already permeate American politics. Redford knows he will not win, feels there’s nothing at stake, and deliberately decides not to censor himself. He will use his candidacy to inject sanity into an insane system. Until his approach gains a little traction, and it looks like he may be able to get votes after all. From there, it’s a few verbal tweaks, a few re-worded answers, a few too-often-repeated speeches, and a general erosion of his character, until he is perfectly primed to be a bland sell-out.
The 1970s were a famously cynical time in American cinema, and the harsh messages of The Candidate reflect on the hopelessness of that time. Politics is nothing more than a grooming ground for pretty faces and middle-of-the-road platitudes that are ultimately meaningless when it comes to actual leadership. It’s very much of its time, but, like any great film, also stands strongly as an ever-timely, near-permanent fixture in criticism of what politics has come to be. You can watch this any day of the week, and see modern politicians everywhere.
Robert Redford is famously left-wing himself, and his character, Billy McKay, might serve as a parallel universe autobiography for Redford and for his complete and utter disillusionment with the system. Sometimes that charm – that natural, affable charm – can be a curse, used for evil.
Brian Formo’s Pick: Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
Robert Redford has been in better movies—chiefly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, and Three Days of the Condor—but no film better encapsulates him than Jeremiah Johnson. Redford is the gorgeous leading man who ventured off to live in the mountains, and eventually placed a film festival in the middle of a snowy summit—created to celebrate indie films. Jeremiah Johnson was a plains-dweller who went up into the mountains to be hermit and encountered more cultures in near seclusion than he did in the town below.
Sydney Pollack’s film treats Redford like a movie star that is trying to get away from being a movie star. Within the first few minutes we get a theme song about the hero, just like Redford’s last Western, where he played the Sundance Kid, and then we follow him riding off into the snow-capped sunset. Except that’s not an ending shot, that’s the beginning of the film. We see Redford then do some non-movie star things like steal a gun from a dead man and skin a bear. The first mountaineer he encounters calls him “Pilgrim” because he’s so obviously new to this isolated lifestyle. But Jeremiah holds his own, even when he becomes entrenched in a lengthy territorial dispute with the native Crow tribe.
Johnson is a product of its time. It’s a revisionist Western that’s revisionist for being so quiet and for mostly just following a man in the West who’s simply trying to be a Westerner, but it’s still similar to many Westerns that came before it in that it all builds to territory disputes with the Natives. But Redford is a revisionist movie star, one who helped usher in the 80s and 90s indie film boom in his isolation, all while having the familiar alarming good looks that a previous generation really, really wanted to make a cinema god—but Redford, largely, just wanted to be left alone in the mountains.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: All is Lost (2013)
Robert Redford has starred in many of the best movies ever made, but many of them are two-handers. The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rely just as heavily on Paul Newman’s performance as they do on Redford’s (if not more so), and the same could be said of All the President’s Men if you replace the name “Paul Newman” with “Dustin Hoffman.” And then of course there’s Sneakers, one of my favorite movies, in which Redford is merely one tile in a colorful mosaic of character actors. Indeed, it seems truly remarkable that Redford ever developed such a reputation as a leading man, considering how eager he has always been to share the spotlight.
So credit goes to writer/director J.C. Chandor for giving Redford an opportunity to carry an entire film on his rugged shoulders, completely solo. All is Lost stars Robert Redford, and only Robert Redford. He plays a character known only as “Our Man,” whose boat runs into trouble in the middle of the ocean, and gradually sinks into the sea. Our Man spends the whole movie silently and steadfastly dealing with every problem, trying to save his own life despite nearly constant attempts by nature, buoyancy and happenstance to kill him. The film plays a lot like Final Destination if there was a point to Death’s shenanigans beyond Rube Goldbergian schadenfreude.
All is Lost is not a narratively rich film. Its potency makes up for that. In the absence of context, one man’s grim determination to survive becomes relevant for its own sake, because survival is all life boils down to, despite constant threats to our being. J.C. Chandor directs the film with taut, suspenseful editing and gorgeous photography, but Redford grizzled performance is what keeps it afloat. All is Lost depends on Redford, and Redford provides.
Let us know what you consider as the best Robert Redford movies ever in the comment section below!