The Sundance Kid is finally riding off into the sunset.
With Robert Redford announcing his retirement from acting with the upcoming “Old Man & the Gun,” I’ve been reflecting on a career that’s covered more than my lifetime. I came along too late for his political thriller heyday in the ‘70s, having to catch classics like “Three Days of the Condor” and “All the President’s Men” long after their original releases.
Outside of Harrison Ford, Redford was probably the most visible movie star of my childhood. Like Ford, he always carried a kind of world-weary, down-to-earth quality that was warming and relatable. Even if he was good looking enough to be a "movie star," he never felt glossed-up. Redford, and his roles, always felt very real, and yeah, as a bald guy, I've always been jealous of his unkempt hair. Sue me.
As I was growing up in Utah, Redford was also the “local” guy, the Hollywood star who supposedly lived somewhere behind that fence my family would always drive past during our fall trips along the Alpine Loop. I never quite expected to see him out cutting the grass, but his everyman roles left you thinking he could be.
For all that, my first introduction to Redford came through Ivan Reitman’s romantic thriller “Legal Eagles,” which paired him up with Debra Winger to solve a crime that involved a painting and a weird interpretive dance from Darryl Hannah. It wasn’t the greatest movie, but I enjoyed it. And it did leave me with a strange fondness for the immortal Rod Stewart track, “Love Touch.”
I also remember “The Natural,” which didn’t have Rod Stewart but did have Wilford Brimley. It’s hard to believe there’s anyone out there who hasn’t already seen “The Natural,” now just one of a litany of movies to immortalize America’s Pastime, but Redford’s final lap around the bases on a field showered by sparks is an image I’ll never forget.
A few years later I caught “Sneakers,” an underrated thriller from the ‘90s that gave my generation a taste of vintage Redford. In Phil Alden Robinson’s film, Redford plays a computer hacker in search of a “little black box” that breaks secret government codes.
But even if “Sneakers” and “Legal Eagles” bring back memories of trips to the drive-in with my family or sleepover parties with my friends in junior high, I have to go way back for my favorite Redford role.
For me, like many, I imagine, Redford will always be The Sundance Kid.
I can’t remember the first time I saw 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” but I know I loved it when I did. A lot of people will probably favor “The Sting” as their favorite team-up between Redford and Paul Newman, but I’ll always take Butch and Sundance.
George Roy Hill’s offbeat take on the classic western (scored by Burt Bacharach!) is just about perfect. Set against the last fleeting moments of the Old West, Newman and Redford play the titular outlaw criminals — a little past their primes and a little out of touch with their times — who raise trouble as the “Bandidos Yanquis.” The comic timing between the two is note-perfect for the melancholy, understated mood, matching Butch’s irresponsible goofiness against Sundance’s wearied and cynical seriousness.
In the opening scene, we meet an almost wordless Sundance at a card game, his eyes blazing as his fellow card player calls Sundance a cheat before realizing he's in the presence of the most dangerous gunman around. One of Redford's underrated gifts are his great looks, and this movie has a ton of them, right up to one of the most classic photo-finish endings to ever hit the screen.1 comment on this story
As an adult, it has been fun to see Redford turn up in supporting roles like Alexander Pierce in 2014’s “Captain America: Civil War,” or meatier stuff like his one-man turn in 2013’s “All is Lost.” And of course, I’m reminded of his impact every January when I drive up Parley’s Canyon to cover the Sundance Film Festival once again.
I imagine even if the acting retirement sticks, Redford will still be involved in the festival. But a part of me is hoping the Sundance Kid will emerge from his mountain hideout for another performance. And if Rod Stewart shows up on the soundtrack, I’ll consider it a bonus.