Originally published at SpoutBlog:
Sex Scenes: Robert Redford, INDECENT PROPOSAL
When I was a kid growing up in the west the dueling sex symbols were Burt Reynolds and Robert Redford, and I was solidly in the Redford camp (though by the time I reached adulthood I’d switch sides and bat for Burt). In fact, Redford became my first movie star crush after I watched him light up the screen in Sydney Pollack’s 1979 “The Electric Horseman” opposite (post-bombshell Barbarella) Jane Fonda. Sure, the sight of pretty boy Redford as former rodeo star Sonny Steele reduced to donning cowboy duds trussed up with lights worthy of a Christmas tree to hawk breakfast cereal is ludicrous, but Redford managed to suavely pull it off with his inherent masculine dignity. Sonny, like The Sundance Kid, is a physical man’s man, his frat boy looks belying a passionate rebel who clearly identifies with those wild horses that can never be tamed.
And interestingly, as a sex symbol, Redford not only vied with Reynolds throughout his early career but with himself. There was the Redford of “Horseman,” George Roy Hill’s 1969 “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and 1973 “The Sting” (in which he played the perfectly named con man Johnny Hooker opposite his hot “Butch” co-star Paul Newman) – portraying guys for whom the rule of law was meant to be broken. Then there are those films like Pollack’s 1975 “Three Days of the Condor” and Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 “All The President’s Men,” in which Redford embodied driven heroes whose allure resided in their rock solid sense of right and wrong. Either way, Redford’s sex appeal always lay in the fact that all his characters were fearless risk takers, guys you could count on even if they lived by their own moral code.
Which is exactly why Redford as the creepy, needy, billionaire stalker John Gage in Adrian Lyne’s 1993 “Indecent Proposal” doesn’t work. As an actor Redford is just too self-assured to play a faux cocky richie. The entire notion that someone who oozes as much charisma as Redford does would waste his time in lovesick pursuit of Demi Moore’s cold fish Diana – especially when a true wealthy and sexy sadist would simply sit back and toy with the women who throw themselves at his feet – is as absurd as those Xmas ornaments on Sonny Steele’s chaps (as is the idea that financially strapped Diana and her husband David, played by a wooden Woody Harrelson, would be such prudes as to even hesitate to take up Gage’s offer of a million bucks for one night with Diana. Heck, in real life Gage could have bought and bonked them both for half the price!)
One never gets the sense that Redford’s character is truly emotionally lost, as the actor’s strong moral compass overrides Gage’s shady desperation. John Gage is the type of role Michael Douglas pulled off flawlessly as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s 1987 “Wall Street,” a man whose power of repulsion matched his power of attraction. The miscast Redford is all attraction, which is why he’s not at all believable. Instead of a portrait of a self-made, Type A gambling addict whose terror of exposed vulnerability serves as his windup mechanism, we see a laidback, former surfer boy completely at ease with his own vulnerability. The question at the heart of Lyne’s film becomes not one of morality, of whether or not Diana and David should take Gage up on his sleazy offer and suffer the self-inflicted consequences, but why a secure guy like Gage even bothered with that indecent proposal in the first place.