24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Robert Redford

Robert Redford will play Branch Rickey -- or Bill Bryson

June 1, 2011 |  5:17 pm


In April, Robert Redford tipped 24 Frames that he’d star in a movie about the relationship between Brooklyn Dodgers executive Branch Rickey and second baseman Jackie Robinson. The film would be written and directed by “L.A. Confidential” writer Brian Helgeland, and produced and financed by Legendary Pictures, we wrote. The company squirmed at our posting on the subject, saying it was early days to talk about the film.

This morning the company sent out a release saying that it was indeed developing a movie about Jackie Robinson that Helgeland would write and direct. (It didn't mention the Branch Rickey angle in its statement but given that the project is being done in cooperation with the hands-on Robinson estate, the announcement's focus on just the player and not the general manager may not be that significant.)

In that same vein, it didn't name Redford either, leaving open the question of his involvement.
A spokeswoman for Redford declined comment, saying Redford was traveling. A Legendary spokeswoman said that there was "no casting to announce at this time."

Our sense is that Redford still ends up in the film, and the company just wanted to keep the focus on the life-rights deal. Casting, however, will be tricky in any event. One needs a bankable young black actor to play Robinson (the baseball star was just 28 when he broke the color barrier) and an older one who's believable as Rickey, the iconoclastic executive and unlikely Robinson foil. There's a reason a contemporary Robinson project has been stuck in development for years -- in addition to the casting problem, negotiations for life rights with an icon's estate are never easy. (There was, of course, a 1950 movie about Robinson's breaking of the color barrier that starred Robinson himself).

As for Redford, the actor told us in April that he hopes to get back to acting after several films behind the camera. His immediate next project could be the long-gestating adaptation of Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" -- think a more comedic "Into the Wild" -- that 24 Frames has learned would feature not just Redford but Nick Nolte, who would play an old chum of Bryson's with whom the author decides to walk the Appalachian Trail. The two have, improbably, never worked together before, and as Redford, in his mid-70s, still looks for new paths to blaze, it could fit the bill in more ways than one.


Robert Redford will star in revamped tale of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey at a sportswriters convention in Chicago circa 1948. Credit:  HMH/AP

How ideological is Robert Redford?

April 16, 2011 |  1:07 pm

Few filmmakers get painted with the liberal brush as often as Robert Redford. Once an actor-filmmaker who mixed in All-American stories ("The Natural," Quiz Show") with politically themed dramas ("The Candidate," "All the Presidents Men"), Redford in the latter phase of his career has become more polarizing. His 2007 anti-Iraq film "Lions for Lambs," with its earnest story about brave young soldiers and self-interested political leaders, lit a fire under conservatives, with Redford's public comments about foreign policy and the George W. Bush administration only fueling it.

The Sundance Film Festival founder's new movie, "The Conspirator," doesn't deal with the divisive stuff of contemporary cable news. It's about the personal plight of Mary Surratt, an alleged conspirator in the Lincoln assassination, and the prosecution she faced. Ideological statements are there if you're looking for them -- Surratt's trial parallels the instance of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed , and Redford's depiction of the Constitution under fire can be connected to the present day -- but Redford also upends conventional liberal thinking. The Union leadership, for instance, is shown to be insensitive to civil rights, while the Confederate protagonist is portrayed as the victim.

The director, though, said he believed some on the right would still bring their own baggage to the film, which he directed from James Solomon's screenplay. "I suspect no matter my attempts to have an equal and  balanced piece of work, there's a predisposition to misinterpret my films," he told 24 Frames. "I put a lot of attention to authenticity. [But] I imagine no matter what I do it's going to be pushed over by some people."

In fact, Redford said he believes his previous film wasn't nearly as tendentious as its critics said it was. "When you think about 'Lions for Lambs,' it was misinterpreted by many. It was: 'There's Redford preaching again.' What I was trying to do was just put a spotlight on different segments of our society, looking at education's relationship with students and how prepared the military was when it went into Afghanistan and Iraq."

He said timing was a factor too. "It might have looked better had it come out later; it might not have looked so preachy."

Part of the predisposition Redford describes, however, may be the result of the director's own comments. At 75, the filmmaker still pulls no punches about what he sees as the sins of the right. "I can understand why Stanton [the Union Cabinet member who helped order a military tribunal for Surratt] was in a panic," he said. "But at the same time it was a classic example of self-interest. Whether it's Cheney or McCarthy, all these characters have suffered from the same thing: ideology and self-interest have blended together into a disturbing situation."


'The Conspirator's' little secret

Movie review: 'The Conspirator'

Robert Redford will star in a new movie about Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson

--Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Robert Redford at "The Conspirator" premiere at Ford's Theatre in Washington. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Robert Redford will star in a revamped tale of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson

April 6, 2011 |  3:10 pm

EXCLUSIVE: He starred in one of the most famous fictional baseball movies of all time. Now Robert Redford looks to play one of the most famous real-life baseball figures of all time.

The "Natural" star is on board to play Branch Rickey in a long-gestating, recently jump-started version of a historical drama involving the Brooklyn Dodgers executive and Jackie Robinson, the black player he famously signed.

The as-yet untitled film will be financed by Thomas Tull's Legendary Pictures, which has a first-look deal with Warner Bros. and a long history of co-financing pictures with them. Robinson's part is not yet cast.

"L.A. Confidental" and "Mystic River" writer Brian Helgeland will write and direct the film, Redford said, penning a draft of an earlier version written by, among others, "John Adams" scribe Kirk Ellis. A Helgeland representative declined to comment. [Update, 6:49 p.m.: A source close to Legendary said that Helgeland will be offering an original take.]

The film project has existed in various incarnations before, at one point being developed under ESPN Films with the writers of "Ali," and Redford loosely attached. News about the race-themed drama seems particularly pointed coming just as "Memphis,"  a Martin Luther King biopic directed by Paul Greengrass, has fallen apart.Rickey

Redford's film will look less at the specifics of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier and more at the complex relationship between Rickey, who scholars believed integrated baseball for reasons of both idealism and economics, and Robinson, the second baseman who faced tremendous discrimination when he signed with the Dodgers system in 1945.

"No one really knows the Rickey part, the political maneuvers and the partnership they had to share," Redford said. "It's the story underneath the story you thought you knew." (Rickey, the subject of a new biography by Jimmy Breslin, is a former player who also ushered in other innovations, including the modern farm system and the use of equipment such as the batting helmet. Redford has a long association with baseball; he played at Van Nuys High with Don Drysdale and most recently threw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs' season opener.)

The Sundance founder directs a similarly the-American-history-you-thought-you-knew picture with his upcoming Mary Surratt drama "The Conspirator" (more on that shortly). He said the Rickey-Robinson film, along with a potential lead turn as Bill Bryson in "A Walk in the Woods," represents his desire to get back in front of the camera. Redford last starred in a movie he didn't direct six years ago, in Lasse Hallstrom's "An Unfinished Life."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs season opener. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press; Jackie Robinsion embracing Branch Rickey in 1962. Credit: Associated Press


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