I finally had the opportunity to go see The Old Man and the Gun last weekend, the latest film from David Lowery and what Robert Redford has stated to be his final acting role. It’s a terrific film, David Lowery is one of my favorite filmmakers working right now and Redford is charismatic and charming as ever. There will be no shortage of accomplishments to list in Robert Redford’s obituary when he one day rides off into that sunset. He’s played some of the most iconic roles, directed many memorable films and the Sundance Film Festival wouldn’t exist without him. But one thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is how in his last few roles he turned to a younger generation of filmmakers, taking a chance on unproven commodities that somebody as famous as Redford doesn’t have to do. By taking the risks he did, Redford went out reminding us all it was about making great films all along rather than the paycheck.
This trend started back in 2013, when Redford made the surprising choice of starring in All is Lost. All is Lost is a bare-bones, 98%-dialogue free experiment, more driven by “could we make a whole film out of this” than any plot. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the movie follows a solitary man at sea, who after crashing into a lost shipping container, must try to repair the boat and stay alive while stranded in the middle of the ocean. It’s a phenomenal film, a beautiful meditation on man’s will to live. It’s a role only Redford could have pulled off, he’s just so captivating. He just communicates a lifetime full of regret and sorrow without saying a single word about it. Chandor had only one previous film to his name, the terrific Margin Call, yet Redford liked him enough to take a chance on him for a highly experimental film that normally shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. It resulted in one of Redford’s finest performances.
2 years later, Redford worked with Old Man and the Gun director David Lowery for the first time on his live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon. Lowery, like Chandor, had one previous film to his name, the amazing 2013 film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, yet Redford took a chance on him. It paid off. Pete’s Dragon is another movie that has no right to be as great as it is, but in Lowery’s hands and Redford’s wise charisma, a live-action remake of Pete’s Dragon became one of the best films Disney has put out this decade. Redford then added his name to Charlie McDowell’s The Discovery in 2017. Once again, Redford turned to a young, exciting and inventive filmmaker for their 2nd film. You see a pattern, right? The Discovery, exploring the fallout of the scientific discovery of the proven afterlife, is one of Netflix’s better films. Sadly, it got buried in their endless slog of content, you should definitely seek it out and watch it.
This path leads us to the end with Redford reteaming with David Lowery and entrusting him for his final performance. It’s the perfect final role for Redford, harkening back to his roles in films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, highlighting the natural charisma and charm of Redford. It’s a great film and a great performance. It’s not common for older people in their industry to be fans of the younger generations in any industry you encounter. John Smoltz yells at clouds about how much he hates modern baseball, NBA players who played in the 80s and 90s will often talk about how current players couldn’t last in their era. Very few filmmakers in Redford’s generations will even embrace digital filmmaking, seeing it as the worst thing to happen to their art. Yet here’s Redford, who has no obligation to the younger generation of filmmakers, turns to them to see his career have a great final act. There’s just not much precedent for a guy as famous as Redford to take these risks on these unproven commodities at this late stage of his career. It’s really incredible, and I hope we recognize this amazing quality about Redford. It really is about the filmmaking and the art for him, and he’s helped a lot of great filmmakers these past few years. Let’s not let this final act of Redford get lost in his immense history.