By John H. Foote
Much has been made of the fact Robert Redford stated publicly this is the last film he will act in. Recently he quietly recanted, saying it was a foolish statement to make (agreed). Still a resourceful, interesting actor, I hope he keeps working because I have always felt Redford was a much better actor than he was credited for being.
Just five years ago Redford won the Best Actor award from the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle, for his near-silent performance in All is Lost (2013), though rather shockingly he was not nominated for an Oscar. In fact, as an actor, Redford has earned just a single nomination for his work onscreen, and the nomination came for one of his lightest performances, The Sting (1973). He should have been nominated that year, but for The Way We Were (1973) as a gifted writer who sells out for Hollywood, losing the respect, but never the love of his wife, beautifully portrayed by Barbra Streisand.
Other nods for Best Actor we’re most deserving for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and the aforementioned All is Lost (2013). The best work of his career remains his pioneer in Jeremiah Johnson (1972), a film that for long patches has Redford alone onscreen.
Through the very late sixties and seventies he was a huge box office titan, and beloved by audiences. His acting was naturalistic, he made it look easy but was known to be as hardworking as they came. Always prepared, always on time, he was a director’s dream.
When he directed his first film, Ordinary People (1980), he became the first in a now long line of actors to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Beautifully acted, one can sense the trust Redford inspired on set with his actors, and he was awarded for his efforts. Casting Mary Tyler Moore against type as a cold, grief-stricken mother was a bold move that brilliantly paid off with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In all Ordinary People (1980) won four Oscars, Best Film, Director, Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton) and Screenplay. Among the films it bested was Martin Scorsese’s astonishing Raging Bull (1980). Redford followed that directing the lovely, whimsical The Milagro Beanfield War (1984), the fine drama Quiz Show (1994) for which he was again nominated for an Oscar as Best Director before bombing horribly with The Legend Of Bagger Vance (2000).
He may indeed find his way back to the Oscars for his performance in The Old Man and the Gun, but let’s be clear, it will be a sentimental nomination, payback for the nominations that did not come. That is not to say it is not a good performance, it is, but Oscar worthy? I think not.
The film reminded me a great deal of the Canadian film The Grey Fox (1983) in which the story of Bill Miner made a lovely nostalgic film. Richard Farnsworth portrayed Miner, who after being released from prison began robbing again, but was a complete gentleman and never harmed a soul. In many ways, this new film from Redford is connected to that film, a distant cousin.
Directed and written by David Lowrey the film is the true story of a career criminal named Forrest Tucker, who in addition to robbing banks, was a specialist in escaping prison. Through the course of his life, he escaped incarceration a total of eighteen times. Was no one watching this guy? We meet Tucker now in his late seventies, living quietly in a retirement community, but still has the urge to rob a bank from time to time.
Assembling a gang who begin robbing banks, they are armed but rely on their wit, not their muscle to do their work. Tucker is very clear that no one gets hurt, no one needed too.
On his trail is Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) who more than anything loved the chase more than the capture. In his own strange way he admires Tucker, knowing without him he could never feed his need for a good chase.
Tucker strikes up a romance with Jewel (Sissy Spacek) who is captivated by his charm, like everyone else, but suspects he is not who he tells her he is. They have an easy going chemistry together, two veterans at ease working with each other, and it was great seeing Spacek in a decent role.
Redford gives a quiet performance as Tucker is a man of few words. He seems constantly amused by life, by what is happening around him and gives the impression he would be a cool guy to hang out with. There is nothing menacing about this old crook, which is part of his charm.
Affleck is always interesting but has very little to do here. The opposite of Tucker, he lives his life in honesty, but he cannot help having a degree of admiration for the sly old devil he keeps chasing.
Tom Waits and Danny Glover have small parts in the film, both overshadowed by the leads.
The story moves along, a little slow, no real sense of urgency for a chase film which was puzzling. Granted, Lowrey made a character study, not a chase film, which explains the awkward pacing.
I am glad I saw the film, Redford remains as charismatic as ever, and forever a movie star, but you know the man is and always was a damned fine actor.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.