|'The Old Man & the Gun': The Antihero & the Movie Star|
|By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic|
01:31PM / Thursday, November 01, 2018
If movies were cherished trinkets, director David Lowery's "The Old Man & the Gun," based on a true story and starring Robert Redford as the gentlemanly, senior citizen bank robber, Forrest Tucker, would deserve a place of honor in your cigar box. It is at once a sympathetically laced portrait of the legendary stickup man/jail escapist extraordinaire and a nostalgia-evoking paean to one of the last great movie stars.
We are warmly invited to again marvel at how Redford's handsomeness and signature humanitarianism have always seemed so magically inseparable.
We hook up with Forrest just shortly after his astonishing, much heralded escape from San Quentin. Now holed up with two old bank-robbing pals, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (ToWaits), he immediately sets about resurrecting his career. In no time, he recaptures the hearts and imaginations of the cheering public in that curious, guilty thrill of hypocrisy that gives dispensation to bandits who thumb their noses at The Man, providing it's done with grace and style. Oh, you also can't hurt or kill anyone.
But of course, for every amiable antihero, there is an almost as interesting, would-be spoiler. In this case, it's Casey Affleck's detective John Hunt, a dedicated crime-solver soon perplexed and miffed by what becomes his white whale. Perhaps delivering a message that many of our current, more scurrilous politicians can learn a lesson from, Hunt, a family man when he isn't sleuthing, sees the elusive golden-ager not so much as an enemy, but more as a worthy adversary. The cat and mouse game ensues, with each competitor's personal life serving as a subplot.
Enter stage left Sissy Spacek as Jewel, Forrest's potential love interest in a relationship marked by a getting-to-know-you period that unfolds like a mystery provides bouquets of whimsy, and engages us with the poetic enchantment that it is never too late to find that special someone. That Jewel lives on her big ranch, out among the wide open spaces, supplies a dramatic if not completely metaphorical contrast to Forrest's almost entire life of incarceration. She is cautious. And we are wary, tacitly informing that we'll revoke our indulgence if he breaks our gal's heart.
Meanwhile, in more traditionally domestic circumstances, we observe detective Hunt trying to balance his duties as father and husband with the professional challenges being wrought by the title character's much-publicized crime spree. Although downright glum at first, everything changes once he gets a sense of Forrest's chivalric code of illegal acquisition. Enthusiasm leads to insight and a mutual admiration which, we fear, cannot end satisfactorily for both parties.
The attraction here is the inherently glib oxymoron, a sub-genre that deals in the theory that some brigands, by sheer dint of an otherwise peerless code of ethics and an enticing personality, supply us with a vicarious, fantasy need. Here, the lines of right and wrong blur. And while ultimately in conflict with what it takes to keep the scales of justice evenly balanced, the unspoken thought is that these idiosyncratic souls are ultimately more above board in their dealings than the so-called honest bigwigs who all but make our pocketbooks their very own.
Happily, more than just charmed by Redford's characterization, we are also treated to his rather astute and sensitive dissection of bank robber Tucker's pathology. In ancient times, robed philosophers might have opined that the purloining of financial repositories was fated, that it was in the perpetrator's stars. Here, a case is made for the environmental causes, using stills and scenes from previous Redford movies to catalog the progression of a thief. But bottom line, he just has to rob banks.
I am brought to two thoughts. No. 1 is from an auto-seat cover expert I frequent on occasion who related that an uncle once told him that man is born with a "giant emptiness in his chest, and that he is destined to try and fill it until the end of his days." No. 2 brings to mind Taffy, my intrepid, handsome, wirehaired mutt with a perfect black eye who, like Achilles, lived his short but illustrious seven years from my sixth to my 13th year. Taffy chased cars. He couldn't help himself. There was no happier moment for Taffy than when nipping at a speeding rear hubcap. For me? Of late it's that perfect drive on a winding country road, the exhaust note of the two-seater echoing into the woods as I motor to that idealized, as yet unfound cafe where you can get the best darn blueberry cobbler there ever was, served by the nicest, well, you get the picture.
All of which goes to suggest that if you deal in the sort of wish fulfillment here delineated, it might prove entertaining as well as instructive to compare notes with "The Old Man & the Gun."
"The Old Man & the Gun," rated PG-13, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by David Lowery and stars Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek and Casey Affleck. Running time: 93 minutes