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Richard Corliss Pays Tribute to Robert Redford in One of His Final Pieces

The late Time critic and Film Comment editor wrote one of his last essays on Redford's career.

As Criticwire readers already know, the great film critic Richard Corliss died last Thursday at the age of 71. But he left at least a few pieces yet to be published, and an essay on Robert Redford’s career for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Chaplin Gala is among them. In a piece just posted at FSLC’s site, he writes:

He turned to directing in 1980, and on his first try, “Ordinary People,” earned Best Picture and Director Oscars for a family-crisis story of almost virtuosic austerity, and a major work in a minor key. Redford never stinted on his work either as Sundance’s guiding light or as an actor—including key roles as the aging baseball phenom in “The Natural,” as Meryl Streep’s wandering lover in the Oscar-winning “Out of Africa,” and as Demi Moore’s million-dollar seducer in “Indecent Proposal” — but for the last 30-plus years he has basically been Bob Redford, auteur. Not at all surprisingly, his films as director have kept finding novel ways to approach big issues: Latino immigration in “The Milagro Beanfield War,” the environment in “A River Runs Through It,” the nexus of television and greed in “Quiz Show,” America’s Afghanistan adventure in “Lions for Lambs.”


His two most recent films as director are arguably his most probing and satisfying. In “The Conspirator,” an account of the case of Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), accused of harboring John Wilkes Booth before and after he shot President Lincoln, Redford draws a bold comparison between the repeal of civil liberties by the Andrew Johnson administration immediately after the event of April 14, 1865 and the policies of the Bush Administration in the months and years after the events of September 11, 2001. “The Company You Keep” portrays the violent American radicals of the Vietnam era 40 years later, when they are senior citizens living under false identities. Both of these films deal with figures suspected of terrorism on U.S. soil; both look for psychological ambiguities within a First Amendment sympathy for the rights of those whose ideals may have led them to do wrong. As a director no less than an actor, Redford has sought to understand and explain the sometimes perplexing actions of ordinary people.

There’s much more on Redford at the link, and we’ve updated Criticwire’s tribute with new pieces from Matt Zoller Seitz, Anne Thompson and Justin Chang. 

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