POSTED April 19 2013

The two faces of Robert Redford

Robert Redford in "All the President's Men"

Robert Redford in “All the President’s Men”

For 40 of his 76 years Robert Redford has lived a double life. In front of the camera, he is America’s heartthrob. Behind it,  bleeding-heart liberal critical of those who would abuse American freedoms. Both Redfords are on view this weekend. On the big screen: his new film The Company You Keep. On the small: All the President’s Men Revisited, at 8 pm Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

In 1972, two Washington Post journalists reported that Republican operatives had broken into the Democratic National Committee offices.

Carl Bernstein’s and Robert Woodward’s articles brought down a president. But even before they wrote a book about it, Redford optioned their story. Woodward credits Redford  for helping shape it as a thriller.

You know doubt have heard of the result, All the President’s Men. In the 1976 film, produced by Redford’s company, Redford portrays Woodward to Dustin Hoffman’s Bernstein. It received four Oscars and is one of the defining movies of the 70s. (It lost best picture to — what else? — Rocky.)

You probably have not heard of The Company You Keep. Redford stars in and directs this new film that considers the legacy of violent protest  and not incidentally, reflects on Redford’s personal legacy.

Around the same time Woodward and Bernstein were investigating Watergate in 1972, the Weather Underground, leftwing terrorists protesting the Vietnam War, bombed a ladies’ room in the Pentagon. In The Company You Keep Redford plays a onetime member of the Underground, now a single father, living incognito as a civil rights attorney.

When his long-ago confederate Susan Sarandon is arrested 30 years after the bombing, he fears he’ll be outed. Especially because an investigative reporter, played by Shia LaBeouf, is nosing around, asking why Redford declines to represent her.

  Company’s all-star cast that includes Sarandon, Julie Christie, Nick Nolte as the onetime radicals amounts to a full-employment act for stars of a certain age and ideology. Shia LaBeouf, Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling are thrown in so that the film appeals not only to those who came of age in the 70’s. but also to their children.

Because both Company and President’s Men are about new-school journalists investigating old-school politicos, it’s easy to see these intelligent thrillers as bookends to Redford’s singular career.

The new film enables the actor/director to reconcile the heartthrob with the bleeding-heart and he’s the best thing about it. I won’t argue that it’s as urgent a film as President’s Men. But I like how both gain momentum by showing the difference between terrorism — which intimidates — and activism — which uplifts.

Do you prefer Redford as the backlit and aloof heartthrob of The Way We Were or the rough and engaged figure of President’s Men


  1. I’ve only seen The Company You Keep, and don’t intend to see any more Redford mishegas. I resented the fact that the only remotely interesting characters in the film to me–those of Julie Christie and the actress who played her daughter–were minimized by more and more boring shots of Redford, his physique, and his intense moral seriousness. By now, I’ve had enough of all three to last me a lifetime.

  2. I prefer him as the conflicted, somewhat complex and confused character in the masterful and subtler Three Days Of The Condor. Improbable as aspects of that film’s situation and plot may seem, they seem deeper and realer than either The Way We Were or All The President’s Men, which are tintype exercises by comparison. Redford, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow and Cliff Robertson all delve deep.

  3. Debbie says:

    I give him credit for trying to be both when he can, by making liberal films. But DEFINITELY I value his activism more than his acting.

  4. I much prefer his acting to his activism. When he’s acting he seems engaged in something he cares about deeply and connecting with talent that’s unique and God-given. He can be unexpectedly subtle and very moving. When he’s lecturing on political issues, he seems like a cranky, hypocritical limousine liberal. He’s more appealing than most, but that’s star quality. I mean, he’s Robert Redford, you know?

  5. Ron says:

    Know doubt? Carrie, come on now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please prove you\'re not a robot: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.