A master of non-confrontation, the star has thwarted the growth of Sundance and its satellites through his deflection and indecision.Some years ago, when Robert Redford was just emerging as a star, I drove him to my home for dinner. We had spent a difficult day meeting with writers and prospective directors on a project. As we headed up the street, he suddenly pointed to a modest house almost directly across from mine. “My first girlfriend used to live there,” he said. “At least, I think she was my first.” We pulled into my driveway. I said nothing, expecting some further elaboration, but there was none. It was a Redford Moment. A comment, an opening and then nothing — no emotion, no subtext. It was a scene in search of a rewrite. Over the years, I occasionally thought back on that scene. In later meetings, and in meetings described to me by friends, Redford Moments kept recurring like clockwork. And there was never a rewrite. This entire week at Sundance will doubtless be a Redford Moment. Faced with a hostile depiction in Peter Biskind’s new book, “Down and Dirty Pictures,” Redford put out word that he would be unavailable for interviews. He just wants to see some movies and keep to himself. Having announced that, Redford, true to form, promptly granted an interview to John Horn of the Los Angeles Times. It was steeped in stirring pronouncements. “You win a few and you lose a few,” he told Horn. Discussing his failed scheme to launch a Sundance theater circuit, Redford declared, “I don’t mind failing at something, but it’s hard for me to let go of something that hasn’t been tried. But I think that idea got away from itself.” Get that man a rewrite! Robert Redford is a movie star, and we all understand that stars live on their own cloud. They don’t need to reserve tables at restaurants or to pay for things in stores. All they have to do is say “yes” to a script and an entire industry instantly springs into motion, scores of people go to work, a hundred million dollars is promptly allocated. But Redford has always been eager to transcend to something beyond stardom. Through Sundance, he has effectively institutionalized himself. In so doing, he has left a legacy of Redford Moments. He has hired people and then simply left them hanging. He has started production companies and then turned his back on them (a bunch of lawsuits have resulted). At one point he negotiated with Paul Allen on a promising scheme to recapitalize Sundance and expand the Sundance channels, but that, too, ran into a wall of fog. “The Paul Allen deal got all complicated with lawyers and with this, that and the other,” Redford cogently explained to the Los Angeles Times. Ah, yet another Redford Moment. In his career as an actor-filmmaker, Redford has managed to stay in character. On “All the President’s Men” he elicited a greenlight from Warner Bros. based on William Goldman’s superb script, and nailed down Alan Pakula to direct and Dustin Hoffman to co-star. Shortly before the start of principal photography, however, Goldman was summoned to a meeting. He found Redford sitting at a table with Carl Bernstein and his then-girlfriend, Nora Ephron. “Carl and Nora have written a new script for our movie,” Redford intoned coolly. “You might want to read it.” Goldman was understandably indignant, pointing out that his script had been approved by the studio as well as the director and that this was a “go” picture. Redford simply pointed to the script sitting there atop the table. And Goldman realized instantly that he was living through another Redford Moment. Having worked with Redford on several movies, I guess I can rightfully suggest that I know him. The trouble is, I don’t. I admire his instincts, to be sure. He is pro-environment (though I’m not sure what that means anymore). He wants to help independent filmmakers. He clearly is a thoughtful man. But those Redford Moments keep getting in the way. Over the years, I have concluded that my first instincts were correct. He is a character in need of a rewrite. Not a total rewrite — just a touch of empathy here and there, a hint of passion, a willingness to confront people and ideas. But, of course, stars don’t get rewritten. Not unless they want it, that is, and, as Redford hinted to John Horn, he doesn’t want it. “You win a few and you lose a few,” he says. How can you improve on that analysis?
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more