Robert Redford‘s directing career is surprisingly scattered and thin. Though he has been directing since 1980 (Academy Award-winning Ordinary People), he is not overly prolific, having directed a total of nine films. Some of his films have been very well received, while others have come and gone with little fanfare and even less lasting discussion. (Think for a minute if you can even remember what his last directorial effort, The Company You Keep, was about or who was in it. (Shia LaBeouf was in it. Really.)) For my money, Redford’s most effective effort is 1994’s Best Picture nominee Quiz Show. (It is also the only other time Redford was nominated for Best Director, outside of Ordinary People.) Though Redford’s acting career seems to overshadow his directing, Quiz Show is a subtle, moving treatise on what we hold up as important in America.
What works so well about Quiz Show is that, even though it is about the Twenty-One quiz show scandals, it is more concerned with the people involved and their lives. John Turturro gives an excellent performance as the contestant that ends up “losing” because of ratings. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as the utterly charming and socially prominent contestant who, despite being less talented, “beats” Turturro’s less likable character. Redford understands that the drama of the scandal is only effective if coupled with resonant themes. Turturro’s Herb Stempel may not be very socially adept, but he taps into the audience’s pathos. Similarly, Fiennes’ Charles Van Doren may be attractive and exciting but he reminds viewers of all of those people who cruise through life on their charisma. Finally, what the movie is truly about is how Americans celebrate the types of lives that are decidedly different from the lives that they actually lead. Instead of championing the little guy, we seem to champion the fame-hungry and the self-obsessed. In that way, Quiz Show is more pertinent in 2017 than it was when it was released.