Sundance Kid makes his last score

October 9, 2018

Chicago Tribune

In 2003, David Grann’s lovably bizarre true-crime account “The Old Man and the Gun” appeared in The New Yorker, telling the unlikely story of Forrest Tucker, a natty serial bank robber with multiple prison-escape attempts on his resume. Tucker ended up dying behind bars the year after the story brought him national renown.

Such a man was made for the movies, destined specifically to attract the attention to a star of a certain age. Now 82, Robert Redford claims “The Old Man and the Gun” will be his final screen appearance. If so it’s a pretty fetching one, in a determinedly low-keyed outing written and directed by David Lowery, who has yet to make an uninteresting picture.

This one co-stars Casey Affleck as the Dallas police detective on Tucker’s tail. Danny Glover and Tom Waits fill out fanciful versions of the real men who comprised the so-called Over the Hill Gang along with Tucker. Some of the details in the film are legit, such as Tucker’s use of a conspicuous hearing aid. It made him look vulnerable and frail; the device, however, was tuned to the nearest police scanner.

Now let’s talk about Sissy Spacek. There’s a moment when her character, Jewel (who bears little factual relation to the Jewel in the real Tucker’s life, one of his wives), has just been kissed by her courtly new paramour. Alone, at night, approximately 100 different emotions race across this great actress’s face, with delight and doubt leading the way. It’s a lovely nonverbal moment, foreshadowing what’s to come while bringing you suddenly close to what this woman is feeling.

I hope Spacek gets a role as spacious and accommodating as Redford’s someday.

By contrast, Spacek’s co-star delivers what he has been best at: a single, careful look, or mood, or understated note at a time. Redford is not a chord man. I wouldn’t call the film itself complex, but it’s sweet-natured. Set in 1981, it has the grainy, soft-edged look and texture of a movie made around that time. It’s a gentle throwback, with a stunning lack of violence, or rough language, or salacious anything to trouble the waters.

“The Old Man and the Gun” retells Tucker’s story by way of a compressed timeline and plenty of inventions, most of which feel about right. (Tucker really did bust out of prison all those times, and in 1979 he really did escape, temporarily, from San Quentin, in a homemade rowboat.) This is a fact-based yarn so relaxed in the telling, it’s practically lying down. Everyone on screen has a pleasant time with their cohorts.

Lowery taps our memories of Redford’s entire career. Today, the actor’s face is a wonder of deep creases, though his haircut is basically the same one he had around the time of “Three Days of the Condor.” His gait may be stiffer, but it’s still brisk and purposeful. No fuss. Same goes for his acting.

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