Red­ford is wry, charm­ing in his (maybe) swan song

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - ARTS & CULTURE - RE­VIEW By Jo­ce­lyn Noveck “The Old Man & The Gun” is screen­ing in Beirut the­aters.

NEW YORK: If you’re go­ing to pick some­one to play a man who moves through the world with grace, style and a slight, wry smile, you could hardly do bet­ter than Robert Red­ford.

As an ac­tor, Red­ford broke hearts for decades with his blond good looks, but even more by con­vey­ing just a tinge of other-world­li­ness, whether his char­ac­ter was a crim­i­nal or a cad. When Bar­bra Streisand touched his face at the end of “The Way We Were,” it’s as if she were en­coun­ter­ing a won­drous alien.

Now Red­ford is 82, an Os­car­win­ning di­rec­tor and an elder states­man of Amer­i­can cinema.

He’s said “The Old Man & The Gun,” in which he plays his­toric bank rob­ber For­rest Tucker, is likely his last act­ing role. If so, how apt that he’s play­ing a man who achieved his goals with a gen­tle de­meanor and panache.

“You’ve got to hand it to the guy,” one ju­ror who helped con­vict Tucker said. “He’s got style.”

That last quo­ta­tion is from David Grann’s noted 2003 New Yorker piece on Tucker – upon which writer-di­rec­tor David Low­ery’s “The Old Man & The Gun” is based. A dis­claimer at the start says the story is “mostly true,” giv­ing Low­ery some nar­ra­tive lee­way, es­pe­cially with the end­ing and with sec­ondary char­ac­ters in­clud­ing Tucker’s love in­ter­est, played by a sweetly mov­ing Sissy Spacek.

The ba­sics are the same. Tucker robbed banks across the coun­try in a decades­long ca­reer that be­gan at 15. He also es­caped from prison some 17 or 18 times, in­clud­ing a spec­tac­u­lar 1979 es­cape from San Quentin – in full view of prison guards – in a kayak sten­ciled “Ruba-Dub-Dub.”

He fi­nally died in prison in 2004, at age 83.

The film fol­lows a se­ries of 1981 heists across Texas and nearby states. The modus operandi is nearly al­ways the same. Dressed in a proper suit and hat, Tucker strides into a bank, tells a man­ager or teller he wants to open an ac­count.

When asked what kind, he says, “This kind,” open­ing his coat and flash­ing the gun he car­ries, but doesn’t need to touch.

When one ner­vous young teller cries, he com­forts her.

“Chin up,” he says. “You’re do­ing a great job.”

When po­lice ar­rive, bank work­ers in­evitably re­count that he was ex­ceed­ingly po­lite, even “happy.”

En­ter a de­ter­mined John Hunt, a real-life Texas po­lice sergeant (that’s his true name, prov­ing that some­times you re­ally can’t make this stuff up), played by an ex­cel­lent Casey Af­fleck. Hunt is the one who man­ages to link the crimes to­gether, and to a unique geri­atric team that in­cludes ac­com­plices Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), a com­bi­na­tion of real and com­pos­ite char­ac­ters.

On the road one day, Tucker stops to help a woman with en­gine trou­ble. Jewel (Spacek), a widow who raises horses, has an unas­sum­ing charm, just like the dap­per man who comes to her aid even while ad­mit­ting he knows noth­ing about cars.

He gives her a lift. They get cof­fee. He tells her he’s in sales. She thinks he’s wear­ing a hear­ing aid. It’s re­ally ear­phones con­nected to a po­lice scan­ner. They get to know each other slowly. Mean­while, the law closes in.

One of the more mem­o­rable mo­ments comes late in the film, when Jewel vis­its Tucker in prison. He hands her a list of all his es­capes – the suc­cess­ful ones. As he de­scribes them, the screen turns to flash­backs, and we get a glimpse of a young Red­ford’s face, pop­ping up clev­erly to re­mind us of his long ca­reer.

There’s a blank spot – for his next es­cape, he says.

“Maybe you should just stay put,” Jewel coun­sels.

Were it not for Red­ford, the film would be – well, why even ask, be­cause Red­ford is the point. He chose the role, op­tioned the New Yorker ar­ti­cle, chose the di­rec­tor.

It’s a per­fect role for his swan song, but we won’t hold him to that.

Maybe you should just stay put, Robert.

Spacek and Red­ford in a scene from “The Old Man & The Gun.”

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