Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Sissy Spacek’

As long as Kirk Douglas is still with us, the position of Greatest Living Movie Legend is filled, but there are a bunch of honourable mentions just bubbling under, most of them (naturally) ladies and gentlemen of a certain age. Doris Day is 96, Angela Lansbury is 93, Sidney Poitier is 91, and Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood are both 88. Compared to these guys, at only 82 Robert Redford is practically a brash young whipper-snapper, and still feels like a vital and energetic figure in the world of cinema – largely because of his work as a producer and director, and as founder of the Sundance film festival (it is perhaps telling that many younger people are likely aware of Sundance without appreciating the provenance of the name). On the other hand, it’s not as if Redford has ever completely vanished from the screen – there is probably a generation of young viewers who are only really aware of him as the senior bad guy in The Winter Soldier, a role which Redford apparently took mainly because it would be a change of pace and he was interested in learning about the technology involved in making a modern blockbuster.

All this is about to change, of course, as Redford has announced his retirement from screen acting, his final role being the lead in David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun (and produced by Redford himself). This is a mostly true story concerning the doings of Forrest Tucker (played by Redford), a man with an unshakeable love of robbing banks and a comparable fondness for busting out of the various institutions his first passion tends to get him stuck in (at one point escaping from San Quentin in a home-made sail boat). The movie opens with Tucker ambling out of a bank, getting into his car and driving off, only to stop and discreetly change vehicles after only a couple of blocks. Heedless of the police cars zooming about the area, sirens wailing, he goes on to stop and help Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a woman whose car has broken down. Naturally, he refrains from telling her his vocation – or perhaps it’s better to say he doesn’t force the issue when she refuses to believe him on this topic, as he’s just such a warm and pleasant man.

Tucker’s string of bank robberies continues, sometimes alone, sometimes with a couple of equally elderly accomplices (Tom Waits and Danny Glover) – he has a police scanner disguised as a hearing aid, which helps with the getaways. One day he happens to rob a bank which is being visited by down-at-heel police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), managing to do so with hardly anyone noticing. Hunt becomes fascinated by this curiously courteous bank robber (‘Chin up, you’re doing a great job,’ says Tucker to one sobbing cashier) and gets himself assigned to the case of the ‘over the hill gang’. Will Forrest’s growing relationship with Jewel finally motivate him to pack in his criminal career? Or will the forces of law and order finally catch up with their man?

Well, at one point I was planning to watch this with my friend Olinka, who (as regular readers will know) is a sucker for anything which vaguely resembles a thriller. I’m quite glad we didn’t (in the end she decided to go and see Aquaman with me instead), as, despite the bank-robbing-police-manhunt elements of the plot, this isn’t really the kind of film it looks like. On paper it sounds like it has a lot in common with King of Thieves from earlier this year, another film about a gang of superannuated bank robbers, and indeed there are a few things they have in common – in both cases, footage and publicity shots from old movies is re-used to depict the characters as younger men (here we are treated to reminders of Twilight Zone-Death-era Redford, Butch Cassidy-era Redford, and Out of Africa-era Redford) – but while the British film came on like a blackish comedy and gradually acquired an edge of genuine menace, The Old Man & the Gun isn’t really any kind of thriller, but a gentle and low-key character piece (the old man is in the majority of the scenes but the gun never gets used).

The relationship between Redford and Spacek is charming and believable, but the heart of the film is really the relationship (such as it is) between Redford and Affleck. Hunt is apparently a man who has all the important things in life – a beautiful wife and children, a decent job, and so on – yet Affleck manages to suggest a subtle melancholy and a sense of a man who is subtly dissatisfied with his lot. One of the things which fascinates him about Tucker is the fact that, quite apart from the fact that everyone comments on what a nice man he is, he is grinning broadly as he goes about his business. Tucker, the film suggests, is one of those fortunate people who has found the secret of genuine happiness – it’s just that in his case, the secret is to get his fix of robbing banks and escaping from prison on a regular basis. Apart from this, he seems to be a lovely chap.

If the film is trying to make a point about how everyone is different and this makes Tucker’s lengthy criminal career somehow excusable – and, aided by the megawatt power of Robert Redford’s natural charisma, it is almost impossible not to like him by the end of the film – then it does so in a very understated way. This is a very understated film in almost every way, naturalistic and low-key, with a great period soundtrack (it is mostly set in the early 80s). It has to be said that, after an interesting start, the plot ends up just meandering along, really turning into just a series of undeniably effective character vignettes. There are no great character epiphanies by the end, but you do come away with a distinct sense that Forrest Tucker was a man entirely at peace with himself.

Is it too much to say the same is clearly true of Redford himself? It’s easy to get a bit sentimental at a moment like this. As a valedictory appearance before the camera, this is a great summation of everything that has made him such a star: charisma, intelligence, and subtlety. Even the greatest movie stars seldom get the swan songs they deserve, but Robert Redford has come very close to it here, I think. An extremely well-made and very likeable film.

 

Read Full Post »