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Robert Redford is a lot of things. A great director, a skilled actor, a movie icon…One thing he isn’t, though, is a fan of happy endings. Oh, and I believe the evidence (i.e. his filmography) speaks for itself.
Either Redford doesn’t enjoy happy-endings, or he just happens to like the script too much to care whether his character gets romantic bliss at the end.
Note: If you don’t want to be spoiled about the endings of several Redford movies, you might not want to continue further.
Out of Africa (1985): Directed by Sydney Pollack. Co-Starring Meryl Streep. 7 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
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Out of Africa tells the story of a Danish baroness starting a life in Africa, and bringing all her energy and uniqueness with her as she interacts with natives and non-natives alike. But she has quite the impact on free-spirited hunter Denys (Robert Redford), who she starts falling for.
Of course he is cool, handsome, charismatic and adventurous.
They have this modern romance for a while before their differences get in the way. As much as they are both independent, they have different ideas about romance and being with someone.
In the end, they realize they might both need to change a little since they do want each other but guess what? Denys dies in a plane crash. Ouch.
Of course Out of Africa isn’t just about the love story, but it’s an integral part of the film. It offers great cinematography, chemistry between actors, the true story of a very interesting woman…
Still, when you look at Redford’s character: he gets the girl, but he dies in the end.
P.S. I haven’t seen all his movies (yet), so if there is more, don’t add it in the comments. I don’t want to be spoiled : )
Up Close and Personal (1996) co-starring Michelle Pfieffer
I already reviewed the film, so you can have unspoiled fun here.
Redford’s Warren is a seasoned news reporter-turned-producer who trains the small town Sally (Michelle Pfieffer) and she slowly transforms from clueless to elegant and heart-felt.
Spending this much time together and getting to know each other really well result in them falling for one another, and the two stay together despite different career opportunities and aspirations.
Unfortunately, one career aspiration sends Warren to Panama and he proves that he’s still got it: There really is a story there. But that story does get him killed…
A case of Redford getting the girl but dying.
The Way We Were (1973)
(*Also features spoilers for Sex and the City series)
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An “opposites attract until opposites repel” story that I just can’t like as a romance.
OK, so I saw The Way We Were after I saw Sex and the City because well…I was 14 when SATC started and I saw the related episode before the movie. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was comparing her doomed relationship with Big (Chris Noth) to the relationship of Katie (Barbra Streisand) and Hubbell (Robert Redford)’s.
Well, I was quite disappointed with SATC because despite all the horrendous things that happened in their relationship (including cheating on their then partners with each other), they got a happily ever after at the end of the series. By then I couldn’t have cared less about Big, or Carrie.
And watching The Way We Were…well, Hubbell and Katie made Carrie and Big seem like two peas in a pot. At least their political views weren’t insanely different, their career advancement didn’t disappoint the other and one’s political affiliation didn’t endanger the other’s career. Then there’s the little affair where Hubbell cheated on Katie whereas in SATC, despite all the “twistedness”, Big was loyal to Carrie.
Now, with Hubbell and Katie…their differences were even more obvious and powerful. And you are supposed to love someone not despite who they are, but because of who they are.
You can argue that they loved each other but it just didn’t work…but hey, tell me, what did they love exactly?
For a romantic like me, The Big and Carrie storyline was not romantic at all, especially after they involved Aidan. But The Way We Were’s story is just as annoying, if not more depressing. I love Redford, and got nothing against Streisand but boy, this movie bored me.
So Redford gets the girl, but doesn’t end up with her.
The Horse Whisperer (1998) co-starring Kristin Scott Thomas & Scarlett Johansson
(*Spoilers for both the movie, and the novel it was based on)
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When Annie’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) daughter (Scarlett Johansson) has an accident with her horse, she thinks that the best way to heal her daughter, along with the horse, is move to the ranch of the horse whisperer Tom Booker (Robert Redford). Of course having left behind not the greatest of marriages, spending a lot of time with the handsome and modern cowboy, and the beauty of the nature will confuse the hell out of Annie.
Being a romantic drama directed by Robert Redford, an unhappy ending shouldn’t surprise you in the slightest. Though this time we have to hand it to Redford – he changed the ending from the hero dying to the hero just losing the girl.
Not that the girl really wanted to leave, but her life was in the city, her husband (Sam Neill) still loved her and wanted to try-and he really loved her daughter. So it was more like she picked her daughter (and the city) over the whisperer, rather than her husband over him.
Still, Redford didn’t get the girl.
The Great Gatsby (1974) co-starring Mia Farrow
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Based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgeral novel.
Gatsby (Robert Redford) acquires wealth to impress his ex flame Daisy (Mia Farrow) who married into privilege, but Daisy seems to care about titles and money that were born into.
Now, it has been a while since I read the novel, but if I recall correctly, Gatsby never quite gets the girl and even dies at the end. Ouch.
Though I have to say I didn’t really care about either of their characters.
Fun note: (Now, I’ll spoil a bit of DiCaprio endings for you…)
Director Baz Luhrman remade The Great Gatsby in 2013 with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. Which got me thinking, DiCaprio doesn’t that get that many happy endings in his movies either. Assuming the end of this classic wasn’t changed, we can add it to Romeo and Juliet, Titanic, Blood Diamond, Revolutionary Road (if my memory serves right) and well…I can’t remember the rest of his movie endings. Feel free to spoil me about them.
Indecent Proposal (1993) co-starring Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson
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Rich businessman John (Redford) is used to getting what he wants, and now he wants to sleep with the married Diana (Moore). Diana loves her husband David (Harrelson) to bits, but they are in huge debt, and John has offered a million dollars to “have” Diana for one night.
She begrudgingly accepts, and their marriage later suffers from the aftermath. Diana gets with John for a while…
So he sexually gets the girl, later partly emotionally gets the girl, but will always be second to the husband. Not that his character was an angel, but all parties are seriously flawed. So why shouldn’t we root for the guy who looks and sounds like Redford?
Havana (1990) co-starring Lena Olin
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It’s 1958. Professional gambler Jack (Redford) is in Havana to pull the biggest, and last game of his career when he meets the beautiful Roberta (Olin) who has been helping the rebels with her Cuban doctor husband. He falls for Roberta’s passion and she gives him something to believe in other than himself.
Her husband dies, Jack comes to her rescue, quite impressively and eventually she becomes enchanted by him too. But hey, she just might be a bit more in love with the idea of a revolution than she’s with Jack.
So Redford gets the girl for a bit, he doesn’t die but the girl doesn’t go with him either
Thinking about it, if Redford has a niche (or several, we are talking about decade of film-making and acting here) –it is romantic dramas without happy endings. Or action/dramas with some sad aspect, usually about him.
The Last Castle (2001) co-starring James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo
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Now, this is not a romantic drama. It’s an exciting and thought-provoking action/drama about how one general (Redford) finds himself in a military prison where the warden (Gandolfini) has been treating the inmates inhumanely. It gets to the point where the general can’t take it anymore, and with his leadership, the men set out to take over the prison.
They do manage to take over the prison through some fun action scenes, but in the end, Redford dies for his cause. Sure, they make their point and overthrow the warden. But the man who made it possible is gone. And it is an action movie, for crying out loud!
So what’s the score now? Robert Redford 8, happy endings 0?
Three Days of the Condor (1975) co-starring Faye Dunaway
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CIA researcher Joseph Turner (Redford)’s job is to read anything and everything. However his not-so-dangerous life is turned upside down when someone inside the CIA orders his unit (and every person in it) to be destroyed. He survives by pure chance, and spends his “three days” trying to not to get killed.
Part of his success comes from the fact that his mind doesn’t work like a regular agent’s. He kidnaps a random woman (Faye Dunaway), stays with her in her house and during the interesting “hostage” situation they “bond”.
At the end of the movie, it seems that he has a safety measure, but it is not guaranteed that it will work. The woman wouldn’t mind seeing him again, but she has a boyfriend, and she is a bit weird.
So it is not so much unhappy as it is very vague. But it is definitely not a happy ending.
This Property Is Condemned (1966) co-starring Natalie Wood
Now I really don’t like this movie, but the ending has got nothing to do with it. I pretty much enjoyed most of the movies listed above, but this one…
I just can’t stand most of the movies before the 70s. The artificial colors, the exaggerated acting, the overly loud sound editing…Nothing sits right with me. It’s all like a bad play.
You can counter-argue that 80s and 90s have a lot of examples of exaggeration and over-doing things, but I wasn’t born into the 60s. I didn’t grow up watching them either, so they don’t have a nostalgic hold over me like the 80s and 90s do.
This Property is Condemned tells the story of railroad official Owen (Redford) who comes to a small town to close the railway, falls in love with the town’s flirt (Natalie Wood) and together they sort of overcome all…Until she dies.
I know. Ouch. No happy ending for Redford yet again.
Final Score: Redford 10, Happy Endings 0.
*Note: Now, I first wrote a post called Nicholas Sparks vs. Happy Endings since we know the writer loves killing off his main character(s) most of the time. Sure it often happens after he/she hooks up with their big love and they have some quality time together, but I don’t really enjoy seeing the hero/heroine being killed off sometime after having enjoyed the sunset with the heroine/hero.
And please let’s not get into the “there are no real happy endings in real life” debate. It’s Nicholas Sparks. It’s pure escapism, and I don’t like being captured by the prison guards and tell me I never made it out; that it was just an illusion. Metaphorically speaking.