Criminally Charming

Criminally Charming

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Sep 28th 2018

Robert Redford is a cunning, conniving, charming criminal fugitive in writer/director David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun, the truth-based tale of a foxy septuagenarian bank robber and habitual prison escapee opening today in theaters, and the plum role is apparently an ideal fit. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott ruminates: “A charismatic minimalist from the start, he has lately — in the haunting All Is Lost and the mild-mannered Our Souls at Night – offered a series of master classes in understatement. At a time when bluster, bragging and histrionic displays of self-pity are apparently the defining characteristics of American manhood, it’s nice to be reminded of the virtues of discretion and quiet.” Redford’s singular quality of being a deft ensemble player as well as a lone wolf is encapsulated in the estimation of the film by Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers: “Redford and Lowery make it painfully clear how much Tucker’s unarmed bank jobs have robbed him of permanence, family and personal freedom. As he leads the cops on one last, merry chase, his defiance isn’t aimless – it’s the whole point. What the star does, and it’s no small thing, is to show why one man nurtures his renegade spirit above all else. And whether it’s really his final bow or not, Redford gives a virtuoso performance that feels like a valedictory. You want to salute him.” Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair adds: “The Redford charm is abundant…, his familiar mix of cunning and kindness, an arrogance that lets you in on the fun. Redford’s character, Forrest, is an elusive man in some ways, but he’s also an open book, staging heists head-on with polite, endearing directness. He’s a movie star character, more a collection of attractive and slightly outsized traits than a complicated, boringly believable person. Which makes Forrest a perfect fit for Redford’s last dance; it’s a vehicle tailor made for exactly what Redford has done so right for so many years, connecting with audiences while never quite seeming to touch the ground.” As Lowery told Vanity Fair interviewer Rebecca Keegan: “It’s not a literal sequel to some of the films [Redford has] played before, where he played an outlaw. But in a spiritual way, it feels like a successor to those films, in that it almost captures the spirit of those characters at a later stage in life.”

Indeed, for many years, Redford has been a charismatic screen bandit over 60 years in circumstances both feverishly dramatic and coolly comedic, and’s Keith Phillips recaps that nicely in his Robert Redford’s Cinematic Life of Crime piece, accessible here: Two titles Phillips cites also happen to be captivating Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays. Indeed, The Old Man & the Gun incorporates a clip of the younger Redford as a furtive jailbreaker on the run from the earlier of the two, The Chase (1966), a turbulent – and still topical – thriller about a raggedy Texas town thrown into a frenzy when the populace’s power elite and gossipy common folk learn that the convict, unjustly framed hometown boy Bubber Reeves, who holds the key to the burg’s underlying corruption, is headed their way. According to Robert Redford: The Biography author Michael Feeney Callan, Redford was in awe of the toplined Marlon Brando (playing the embattled sheriff) and “was keen to work” with Jane Fonda (playing Bubber’s wife, now in a romantic relationship with James Fox as the son of local banker/power broker Val Rogers, incarnated by E.G. Marshall). Callan reports director Arthur Penn’s thoughts on Redford’s Bubber: “To some extent, his was the most challenged role, because while he’s on the run in the early part, he’s a cipher. The action is like a chess game with the people in the town and their responses to the fugitive. Then in the last act, the last 40 minutes of the film where Bubber returns to his hometown to face the mob, he is there in your face, explaining himself and his raison d’être, very sudden and dramatically. Brando has dominated the picture till that point, then Bob is on equal airtime.”

As another memorable lawbreaker/ex-con, Donald E. Westlake’s beloved literary creation John Dortmunder, Redford enters the film adaptation of The Hot Rock (1972) fresh out of prison, where he’s done a few stretches over the years. But masterminding complex criminal capers is his inevitable specialty, and he is quickly roped outside the prison gates into the ambitious heist caper focused on a priceless rare African gemstone, arranged by his shady locksmith brother-in-law (George Segal) and abetted by two other checkered-credentialed felons (vehicle junkie Ron Leibman and explosives expert Paul Sand). Again keen to work with Segal, another actor he admired, and with screenwriter William Goldman, who penned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Redford welcomed the opportunity, telling Callan: “The story was about a gang of thieves, emphasis on gang, so there was the joy of playing in an ensemble team for the first time since the American Academy. I enjoyed that camaraderie.” Under the deft direction of Peter Yates (Robbery, Bullitt, John and Mary), the enjoyment shows – and glows. These younger glimpses of the ever-vital Old Man The Chase (available at 50% off original list through October 3) and The Hot Rock – are sparkling diamonds in a glorious 60+-year career.