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8 Robert Redford Films You Should Definitely Have Seen

As the movie icon retires, we look back on his most essential work
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Robert Redford, one of Hollywood's great leading men and foremost practitioner of finding one good haircut and keeping it for the rest of your life, has retired from acting at the age of 82.

He was a proper screen titan, melding Jimmy Stewart's laconic delivery, Henry Fonda's generally nice bloke-ness and Gary Cooper's all-American heroism. On top of being reliably stylish, his slightly sardonic but fundamentally pure-hearted thinking-man's-leading-man vibe chimed with a cynical post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America.

With more than 50 films in his back catalogue, there's a lot of whittling down to be done to get to the purest nuggets of Redford. So, here are eight you need to see to understand his excellence.

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969)

Obvious, yes, but you can't really get Robert Redford without it. Redford and Paul Newman's first collaboration with director George Roy Hil–they'd get back together again for The Sting, and Redford would go back for 1920s-set air ace caper The Great Waldo Pepper too–got "mixed to terrible" reviews when it first came out, its writer William Goldman remembered in his memoirs. However, its combination of rambling charm and snappy dialogue made the story of scheming Butch and the laconic Sundance fighting, thieving and running away to Bolivia a New Hollywood classic.

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Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Redford did a lot of films with director Sydney Pollack and aside from Three Days of the Condor, most of them weren't up to much. This one was, though: Redford plays Jeremiah Johnson, a veteran who takes up life as a trapper living wild in the Rocky Mountain in the middle of feuding Native American tribes, traumatised mountain dwellers and the US Army he left behind after the war against Mexico. Johnson finds himself slowly twisted and hardened by his need for revenge against pretty much all of them and a yearning for a bit of human contact. It's somewhere between The Revenant, Hunt For the Wilderpeople and Last of the Mohicans, and stays just the right side of the line between 'thoughtful' and 'ponderous'.

The Candidate (1972)

Redford is the handsome, charismatic and radical son of a governor thrown into an apparently un-winnable senatorial race against a Republican stalwart, before stating to compromise his principles as power slowly comes closer and closer to his grasp–even if he's not sure if he really wants it. It's a funny–if cynical–satire of the pomposity, chaos and dirty mechanics of electioneering which won an Oscar for its screenplay.

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The Sting (1973)

Hollywood loves a story about fraudsters and conmen, and the buddy-up between Redford and Newman's grifters during the Great Depression is one of its best. Old timer Henry 'Shaw' Gondorff (Newman) puts together a team at Johnny 'Kelly' Hooker's (Redford) behest to take down a dangerous crime boss that requires setting up a labyrinthine horse-racing ploy. It's a playful homage to gangster flicks and the conmen who became stars of the sensationalist press of the 1930s and was at the vanguard of a deeply unlikely ragtime revival, but it's got a steely edge to, it too.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

This slice of deep state paranoia kicks off with a massacre which Redford manages to miss while popping out for his CIA mates' sandwiches, and gets more and more tense from there. He's principled, nerdish analyst Joseph Turner, who sifts through books, magazines and newspapers from around the world, looking for patterns and clues hidden in them which the security services can use to work out what their enemies are plotting. But then Turner discovers a plot which pulls him into a clandestine world where pretty much everyone, including his old bosses, wants him dead because he knows too much. It's a classic bit of tightly-plotted and Hitchcockian innocent-against-mysterious-gang-of-evildoers but with a cynical, constantly shifting moral landscape. Without this, there'd be no Jason Bourne and Daniel Craig's Bond would probably still be flying around on a jetpack killing people with exploding pens.

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All the President's Men (1976)

The taut, complex political thriller by which all other taut, complex political thrillers are judged. You know the Watergate story–Redford's young reporter Bob Woodward starts to piece together the links between some bungling would-be thieves, the CIA and the White House along with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), and after a lot of phone calls, sifting through phone books and standing around in multi-storey car parks, Richard Nixon resigns. But director Alan J Pakula tells it with a understated verve over the insistent clicking of typewriters, and Redford gives Woodward a quiet heroism and dogged persistence in search of the truth, and gives a film which could have been a high-handed bit of grandstanding real propulsion and jeopardy.

The Horse Whisperer (1998)

Being handsome, tall and broad-shouldered but with a bit of a twinkly, subversive charm, Redford made a lot of syrupy romantic dramas in his career. Some were good (The Electric Horseman), some were very bad (Out Of Africa, Up Close and Personal), and none of them are really essential. However, you probably need to see one to get Redford's gently muscular and quietly intellectual vibe in its purest form. An angry horse has injured a young Scarlett Johansson and only Redford knows how to calm the beast down. That's basically it. We're not saying that The Horse Whisperer is a work of incomparable genius. It's probably not even in the top 10 films about horses. It is, though, extremely Robert Redford.

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All Is Lost (2013)

The sea is absolutely terrifying: get lost in it, and you could end up like Redford's nameless solo sea captain, who wakes up while crossing the Indian Ocean to find he's got a massive hole in the side of his boat, no radio or navigational systems, and an incoming storm to deal with. Having passed the time since the decent Spy Game in 2001 with plodding mid-tempo dramas, All Is Lost was a typically understated but powerful comeback which showed Redford still had a yearning to explore deeper waters. It's just a near-mute Redford - there are no other characters - against the elements, surviving on his wits. As a last bold action role, there's something elegiac about Redford as the lonely old man cut adrift but determined to survive.

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.

* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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