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Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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The Biography

A-RobertRedfordMichael Feeney Callan is the author of biographies of Sean Connery, Richard Harris, and Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The Topic: Irish biographer Michael Feeney Callan had unprecedented access to Robert Redford, as well as his friends, family, and colleagues, for this biography, which took more than a decade to complete. Callan also pored through Redford's personal papers and conducted hundreds of hours of interviews. The book includes the actor's early life (he indulged in petty crime in L.A. and traveled through Europe, hoping to be a painter), his starring roles (from The Way We Were to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and the gestation of the Sundance phenomenon.
Knopf. 496 pages. $28.95. ISBN: 9780679450559

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"After slogging through Redford's early years for five chapters, this biography takes off when its subject begins to act. Callan's all-access pass results in a deft narrative about the business of making mainstream movies from the 1960s to the present, loaded with insider interviews and compelling mini-histories of how Redford movies like The Candidate, Out of Africa and A River Runs Through It came to be made. Redford's mistakes--films like The Legend of Bagger Vance or the selling off of the Sundance Channel--aren't glossed over here." J. M. Tyree

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The subtitle of Michael Feeney Callan's deeply researched life proclaims it â€˜The Biography.' If that doesn't invoke enough authority for you, consider that Callan, by his own account, devoted more than 10 years to the project and talked not only with Redford's intimates but with the great man himself. At its worst, Callan's labor reduces him to being the stenographer of Redford's fatuousness." Louis Bayard

Kansas City Star 3 of 5 Stars
"Like a sweeping shot of the Grand Canyon, this prodigiously researched book offers much to admire. But ultimately, the trove of details about Redford lacks a focal point. ... This consistent lack of a strong critical point of view--surprising since Callan has written biographies of Anthony Hopkins, Richard Harris and Sean Connery--deprives the book of a center." Gerald Bartell

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Over all, Callan ... paints Redford as a thoughtful and reserved but likable guy, and he explains in intricate, if generally eye-glazing, detail Redford's laudable environmental-preservation efforts. But he has a tendency to highlight Redford's pretentiousness rather than deflate it." Stephanie Zacharek

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"Callan organizes a lot of material into neat chronological order; it's valuable as a survey of Redford's life. But the narrative keeps getting bogged down in unnecessary detail." Michaelangelo Matos

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"While author Michael Feeney Callan ladles out abundant insights on Redford's eco-activism, his political lobbying, his father issues, his peripatetic lifestyle, his disregard for punctuality, his attachment to his Utah mountain retreat and his patron-of-the-arts status as the founder of the Sundance Institute and its influential namesake film festival, there are few revelations about matters of the heart." Susan Wloszczyna

Los Angeles Times 2 of 5 Stars
"As Callan rightly points out, Redford's a man whose earliest good movies all describe the emptiness of success: Downhill Racer, The Candidate, The Way We Were. How does such a man cope with actual failure? Don't stand on one foot waiting for Callan to ask him. Does a taxidermist ask tough questions of an elk?" David Kipen

Critical Summary

Reviewers did not doubt that Michael Feeney Callan had achieved something significant in the more than 10 years he spent interviewing Robert Redford and compiling this book. However, most critics were disappointed that all that effort did not yield a biography that truly deepened their understanding of the actor/director and his work. Instead, most claimed that Robert Redford: The Biography reproduces the less appealing aspects of its subject (such as Callan's overreading of the significance of minor films and life events). Such a claim makes the book fine for a fan but less than the definitive critical biography many had been hoping for. Finally, the New York Times Book Review described the biography is "joyless." Where's the fun in that?