It was an immense privilege to see what could be Robert Redford’s final film on the big screen at LIFF 2018. Though I’ve always been more of a Paul Newman kinda gal, films like Barefoot In the Park (1967), Out of Africa (1985) and All the President’s Men (1976) played a huge part in my movie education while growing up. He’s always been someone that’s there, an actor you could always rely on. Redford has maintained an irresistible charm that has seen him through even the most throwaway fare (looking at you The Horse Whisperer (1998)…still love you though xoxo)
His final project then The Old Man and The Gun (2018) by surprisingly, A Ghost Story (2017)’s David Lowery, is accessible fare and loosely based on a 2003 long article in The New Yorker on the real life ‘old man’. The film is a off-kilter tale of Forrest Tucker’s insatiable desire to rob banks. But this is no Point Break (1991) mind, the well-dressed Forrest (Redford) simply walks into a small town bank in the 1960s and 70s, befuddles the cashier or bank manager with a tip of his hat, and walks out with a case full of money – like a Redford-style dangerously charming bandit of old.
In its best moments it reminded me of another Redford film, the oft-forgotten The Electric Horseman (1979). Though this time, the political commentary is nearly non-existent in TOMATG (as no one is calling it), it is an easy slice of American apple pie served with a folksy tale of life on the edges of American society, and set in a time when Bonnie and Clyde were still fancifully regarded as home-grown daredevils that couldn’t resist the pull of the open road or each other.
It was a joy to witness Sissy Spacek as Jewel, a largely sidelined but prepossessing as a woman whom Tucker meets as he tries to commandeer her car for a getaway. The frame glowed in Spacek’s presence, and as I had recently re-watched Carrie (1976), it was a hoot to see two actors who occupied to completely different schools of 1970s filmmaking come together on screen. Jewel is left to wonder about the man who flits in and out of her life with little care or honesty, and as romance blossoms, you can’t help but wonder if Forrest is just doing this same routine with every widowed rancher he finds in every town.
The film doesn’t linger long on Forrest’s criminality, nor his appetite for emotional destruction though, and a cameo from Elisabeth Moss as his long-abandoned daughter is largely wasted. The law enforcement hot on his tale (headed by Lowery regular and drawl connoisseur, Casey Afleck) seem almost mildly in awe of Forrest and his expert crew (Donald Glover and an on-form Tom Waits), dubbed ‘The Over-The-Hill Gang’s’ antics.
Footage from Redford’s long filmography is adoringly spliced in for a nostalgic montage sequence of daring prison escapes that is fun to see unfold, and remind ourselves just how alarmingly good looking Redford was (and talented, cough, of course). Redford elevates Forrest Tucker to folk tale hero and has the jawline for it too.
TOMATG works best as an easy viewing, chortle-heavy heist movie and serves as a fitting swansong to a Hollywood legend. Though I didn’t see his acting chops being particularly tested, for anyone new to his career, it is a satisfying ‘best of’ reel.