Timothy P. SchillingDecember 27, 2011 - 10:21am0 comments
Michael Feeney Callan
Alfred A. Knopf, $29.95, 496 pp.
Because it is far too easy in life to end up embodying something other than what we say we believe in, we should be grateful to those who hold us accountable to our stated ideals. Dublin-based novelist, filmmaker, and biographer Michael Feeney Callan proposes that for Americans, the movie star Robert Redford is one such person. Skeptics will be surprised at how persuasive Callan’s case is.
Of course, we have to get past the glamour first. Redford broke through as the vision of blond handsomeness in such massively popular films as Barefoot in the Park (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and The Sting (1973). It’s a stretch to call these films social commentary, but in Robert Redford: The Biography, Callan shows how gladly the actor turned to more provocative projects. From the start, Redford—who was a painter before he was an actor—saw himself not simply as an entertainer, but also as an artist. And as his career progressed, he consistently proved to be an artist who was politically engaged.
Callan looks closely at two early works that signal this commitment. Originally envisioned as parts of a trilogy, Downhill Racer (1969) and The Candidate (1972) examine the American obsession with success in the worlds of sports and politics. (A third film, about business, was never made.) Each addresses the theme of the Pyrrhic victory, showing how easily a noble striving can succumb to the American...