American actor Robert Redford is much more than a mere icon. Founder of the Sundance Film Festival, he has acted in some of the most unforgettable movies. The one I particularly remember is Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park (1963), where he plays a stuffy husband to Elizebeth Ashley. Later, his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men and Out of Africa were as memorable. His last year's Our Souls at Night, helmed by Ritesh Batra, was a sweet outing where he plays a lonely widower keen on forging a relationship with a neighbourhood woman, also alone and craving for company.
Redford's latest, The Old Man and The Gun (directed by David Lowery), which screened at the ongoing El Gouna Film Festival, may well be his last performance. Or, that is what he has said. But what a brilliant goodbye that will be.
Wrinkled, with all of his 80-odd years written all over him, Redford essays a bank robber. Yes, believe it or not, but he plays a gentleman heist puller, who loots dozens of banks with a kind of ease that is unbelievable. But then that was in the 1980s, when the world was a nicer place, when we were not confronted with terror and when men and women were goodness personified.
Addicted to robbing banks – not that he needed to do it – Redford's Forest Tucker is a rascal who is 76 in the movie and conducts small-time heists. Inspired by David Grann, whose story for The New Yorker was the inspiration for The Old Man and The Gun, the film does not have all the melodrama and the chases associated with the genre of this kind. Tucker is seen walking into a bank, revealing his gun and asking the manager to part with money. His entry is fascinating. “I would like to meet the manager”, he would say. “Well, I am the manager”, he or she would reply. And then would begin the heist in a calm sort of way.
The best part of it all is that Tucker and his two cronies (who were known as Over-the-Hill Gang), made the robberies a sheer pleasure. Not just for themselves, but also for the bank managers, who, when questioned by cops, would invariably say, “but he was gentleman-like”.
Outside his “profession”, Tucker meets a pretty old lady (Sissy Spacek). He sees her on the highway. Her car has broken down. He offers her a lift, gets to know her over coffee and also escapes being spotted by the police vans that go blazing past him – all looking for him of course. He lies to her saying that he is in sales, but comes clean later.
The third important character in the movie is the long-haired police officer, John Hunt (Cassey Affleck), who, after being humiliated, makes it his mission to catch Tucker. Affleck plays an unlikely cop, soft-spoken with none of the dash and daring of a man in uniform. Much like Redford, who seems such an unlikely robber!
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The Old Man and the Gun may not be a great piece of work – certainly not in the league of Barefoot in the Park or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or even Our Souls at Night (which was poignant and sweet) -- but Redford's last adventure of walking in and out of banks with a devil-may-care attitude and a mesmeric smile cannot be easily forgotten, because of all the heist films I have seen, this one is deadly charming. Oh, but the thief is a gentleman!
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is now covering the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt)