“The Old Man And The Gun”

Contentment and pathology are the poles that keep director and writer David Lowery’s film “ The Old Man and the Gun” moving forward. Touted as Robert Redford’s last starring role, this  film gives Redford a chance to rectify his lone sailor mess in “ All Is Lost” (2013). Redford does not do well when he is the only cast member and has no one to smile or crinkle his eyes at but wet fish. He is best at charming repartee, and here Sissy Spacek lends her charm in mirroring his. Jewel ( Spacek) and Forrest ( Redford) have the chemistry that most of the older viewers came to see. Oldsters understand swan songs.  Spacek can twirl a bracelet, and Redford can smile.

The irony is that the early forties demographic are the ones that could learn the most from this film. Much of this is due to the character of John Hunt, captured so beautifully by Casey Affleck. Hunt is a Texas detective who connects small bank robberies in five states in two years time to a group of three old prison buddies dubbed the “ Over-The-Hill Gang”.

Affleck’s character is feeling like no one cares if these robbers are caught. He is dedicated, but under appreciated. He has a loving family, and his two children look up to him as “ catcher of the bad guys”. Vignettes of the children sending messages over the police scanner and using push pins to target the pattern of robberies are warm and insightful. This is how long, painstaking work and family can co-exist. When the Feds decide to take over Hunt’s investigation, Affleck looks tired, but not defeated. Will he learn something from his gentleman outlaw ? Will we discover more than clichés about doing what you love?

The storyline “ The Old Man And The Gun”  is based on is a true story first made public in the pages of the New Yorker. In 2003, David Grann researched and wrote the piece on Forrest Tucker, a seventy-eight-year-old man,  who robbed some umpteen  banks and broke out of numerous jails. San Quentin being one of them.

Though the film is replete with repetitive scenes of calm, well-planned heists, and deli booths of pie and coffee, the back story of women left and children denied is glossed over. Small hauls and good manners don’t cancel out the threat of gunfire. When one teller cries under stress, Tucker sweetly calms her down. His accomplices, played understatedly by Danny Glover and Tim Waits, keep the pacing flowing. They watch, take notes, stand on roof tops and take photos. Armored cars seem to ramp up the gang internal beat.  Then they return to motel rooms and watch black and white cowboy flicks.

Meanwhile, Tucker does romance Jewel. They rock on her front porch and ride her few horses. She reminisces about happiness. He thinks of a small proud boy, and we learn a little of his past. Tucker buys her a bracelet ( a jewel for Jewel ) and attempts to take care of her mortgage surreptitiously. Spacek is good at moseying along. She makes listening to water boil prescient.

This is something that the young detective becomes good at too. Who is living the chaser or the chased? When he dances in the dark kitchen with his bone-tired wife, Affleck draws depth . The Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde tropes are here, but it is the quiet “ nick knack paddy whack, give a frog a loan” moments that mean the most. Humor, respect, and craziness outshine “throwing the cuffs on”.

 

“Truth”

Investigative journalism has been the subject of many films. “All The President’s Men” was Director Alan Pakula’s  1976  paean  to Bob Woodard (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein ( Dustin Hoffman) as they took on the facts of the 1972 Watergate burglary. “The Insider” was Al Pacino and Russel Crowe and big tobacco. “Shattered Glass” was the 2003 expose on The New Republic and plagiarism. To add to a very long list, “Truth” delves into CBS’s 60 minute producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and CBS anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) as they question and report on whether George W. Bush fulfilled his six-year National Guard Duty commitment.

Based on Mapes’ book, “Truth And Duty: The Press,The President and The Privilege Of Power”,  this film with the help of three directors :James Vanderbilt, Michael Cramer, and Troy Stroughton  delivers a Polonius -themed picture. Being true to yourself means like night following day that you can not then be false to any man.

Mary Mapes is a fast talking, forceful producer who is fired because the burden of proof is put on her shoulders. It is not enough for her to ask the question: she must be able to deliver the answer. Cate Blanchett ‘s performance is nuanced and timely. She can do steaming and catatonic. Her fingers run through her hair in frustration and weariness, her leg shakes up and down,yet her spirit is in focus. A pressured and professional woman,she is a wife and mother overcoming a wretched childhood where she was abused and bullied by her father. She is collegial and emotionally undone when her team is asked to resign. In one telling scene, Blanchett stomps her heels in long strides as she passes by a bank of walled television screens, all capturing Dan Rather’s apology for bad fact-checking. He later steps down as anchor,but tells Mary that she did not cause this. Blanchett’s statement to the review panel is an Oscar monologue. Her rhetorical “do you know how hard it would be to forge those memos” and her subsequent diatribe, outstanding. The fact that there was no stenographer present and no official record of the panel proceedings is made evident.

Robert Redford does some of his best work as he masters the cadences and speech pattern of Dan Rather. His movements and small tics remind us that Redford is an exceptional actor. His philosophizing and eulogizing  of the past mark another grand homage to when “reporting the news was a duty-a trust.”  News is now seen as a profit center  like teaching when it becomes a  for profit business. When Dan tells Mary to FEA ( fuck them all) ,we believe she was courageous. Mary took criticism and never thought she was perfect. Blanchett’s face reflected this when her faulty source’s wife delivered her  “I don’t destroy and humiliate people to save myself ” slap back.

Toper Grace as Mike Smith, fledgling 60 Minute team-reporter,delivers a grand supporting role. His admiration of Rather and Mapes and his profession shows idealistic passion. Dennis Quaid and Stacy Keach and Bruce Greenwood all are stellar in their roles. Greenwood as Andrew Heywood, President of CBS News, is multi-dimensional. He “wanted Dan to survive this”, while he “cleaned the rest of the house”.

The George Bush and John Kerry  bid for the presidential election was never an non-issue in “Truth”. Viacom and Karl Rowe are mentioned . Much is made about document examiners and authentication and reporting on reporters reporting, but the over-riding theme is never to stop asking the questions. Curiosity is everything. Journalists must keep fighting for the answers. Mary Mapes did ,and she received The Peabody Award after her firing from CBS. Abu Ghraib and prisoner abuse she uncovered. Her courage is recorded in “Truth”.