The Sundance Kid, Jeremiah Johnson, Roy Hobbs, the horse-whispering Tom Booker: All of them seemed to have walked out of a tall tale. And all were played by Robert Redford, who — sandy-haired, archetypally handsome — is almost a folkloric figure himself. He’s a man of nature, someone in Hollywood but not of it, and even his name, alliterative and uncomplicated, feels innately American. In this occasionally dry but genuinely insightful biography, Michael Feeney Callan remains keenly aware of his subject’s larger-than-lifeness, even as he tries to chip away to reveal the person underneath.
If you’re looking for a collection of juicy behind-the-scenes Tinseltown stories, you won’t find them here, as Callan focuses on the man rather than the milieu. Over the decade he has been working on the book, he has collected interviews from not only Redford himself but also a large number of those who have worked with him, including some who have since passed away, like directors Sydney Pollack and Michael Ritchie. The portrait that emerges is of a man constantly searching for some form of authenticity, whether it’s found in the period details of the films he directs, the natural beauty of his Utah home, or the independent cinema he has fostered with Sundance.
As Robert Redford moves along — in rigid chronological fashion — a subtler aspect of Redford’s personality materializes. Whereas the others being interviewed describe him as tremendously admirable but flawed like any human being, the actor’s self-analysis is strangely uncritical and entirely without irony. And it’s that willingness to maintain the myth that ends up speaking volumes about the man. B+