The Old Man And The Gun

Redford

The Old Man And The Gun has all those classic indy film elements: quirky characters, quirky plot, a few slow periods where little happens, a mediocre song and a general low budget look.

But this one also has Robert Redford! He may have lost some speed on his fastball, but he still cuts an impressive figure on a movie screen. And he is fun to watch in this one. (Redford just turned 82 in August, FYI.)

Forrest Tucker (Redford) was a real life bank robber. (Not to be confused with the “F Troop” actor.) For Tucker, robbing banks is a bit of a sport. He’s polite to bank staff (and to the authorities who arrest him), not like the fearsome trigger-happy criminals often seen in films and on TV.

As he flees the film’s opening heist, Tucker stops to help a woman whose truck is broken down on the side of the road. He invites her to join him for a bite. So begins his relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek). She is charmed and they begin to get together often for apparently non-carnal reasons.

Casey Affleck mumbles his way through his role as Dallas police detective John Hunt. After the feds take over the pursuit of Tucker, Hunt sniffs out Tucker’s backstory, which features a life of crime and incarceration. Also in the cast are Tucker’s sometime accomplices played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits.

For a movie about a bank robber, with car chases and other tense situations, The Old Man And The Gun is relatively light entertainment. Redford’s smiles and chuckles play a big part in softening the feel of the film.

David Lowery is the movie’s writer/director. He did an interesting crime drama I enjoyed (also featuring Affleck’s mumbles) in 2013 with the puzzling title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

Supposedly this is to be Redford’s last movie. But, as with many music acts who’ve had farewell tours and then later reappeared on stage, there’s a Bond title that applies here: Never Say Never Again. Whether he returns to the screen again or doesn’t, it’s good to have one of one of filmdom’s greats back in a starring role right now.

 

Truth

Truth is one version of the truth. The story comes via CBS producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) who was fired in 2004 for her role in a Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate. The incident also took down longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford).

The film has a message for all journalists: Even if you have a great story, even if the story is true, you must do a good job of confirming your facts.

Did George W. Bush skip out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 70s? Mapes had information that he did. In Truth, she and her team (including Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) work to find people who will go on the record about Bush’s alleged malfeasance.

When retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett (a sickly looking Stacy Keach) produces memos from back-in-the-day and another military man confirms their validity in a phone call, Mapes and Rather decide the story is ready for air.

In short order there are accusations that the memos are not legit. First, it is right wing bloggers who challenge them. Later, ABC News expresses doubts that they are authentic.

The CBS eye blinks at the rancor and Dan Rather issues an on-air apology for having aired the story. After a CBS internal investigation, Mapes is canned and Rather is allowed to resign.

Cate Blanchett’s Mapes is a conflicted woman. She wants to defend her team’s story, despite the holes in the reporting. Yet she also wants to keep her job. She is passionate when chasing the story and angry when the story implodes. Redford delivers a robust performance and captures Rather’s TV charisma. (After his lackluster work in A Walk In The Woods, it is nice to see Redford back on his game.)

But there is a major deceit in Truth. It is implied that Mapes and Rather had no political motive in airing the story. If you believe that they were not looking to knock the incumbent down a notch just two months before the 2004 election, I can get you a great deal on the Poplar Street Bridge.

The cozy relationship between CBS parent Viacom and government gets called out in an impassioned speech by Grace’s character. It is not news that the feds have regulated the airwaves since the beginning of commercial broadcasting. The speech purports to shed light but comes off as sour grapes from a person about to be escorted from the building.

Truth is a well-made bit of storytelling and an entertaining chronicle of how NOT to do journalism. Any good reporter knows that a film that names itself Truth must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The fact that the production company for Truth is Mythology Entertainment (true) is only appropriate.

A Walk In The Woods

 

Ever since I read Edward Garvey’s 1972 book about his Appalachian Trail thru-hike several decades ago, I’ve fantasized about hiking the AT. But a thru-hike, from Georgia to Maine, requires a huge chunk of time away from work and family.

Last year’s Wild, which chronicled Cheryl Strayed’s trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, provided vicarious thrills, but that tale was more about a woman’s self-discovery than about her actual hike.

The new film A Walk In The Woods satisfies outdoor adventure desires on many levels, but disappoints on others. Based on the book by humorist/memoirist Bill Bryson, the story walks a fine line (pun intended) between serious quest and chucklefest.

Sadly, the main flaw of A Walk In The Woods is the casting of Robert Redford in the lead role as Bryson. Not because he’s too old for the role (though he probably is), but because he seems to be phoning in his performance. Did he only do the movie to placate his fellow producers?

Happily, the casting of Nick Nolte as Bryson’s long ago acquaintance from Des Moines, Stephen Katz, is a masterful choice. Nolte plays an unkempt recovering alcoholic whose life hasn’t worked out as nicely as Bryson’s. Emma Thompson appears as Mrs. Bryson, playing the role she often plays—a not particularly likable, very British woman.

Bryson’s idea for the expedition, as depicted in the movie, seems like a sudden random urge. (Whereas you or I might give such an undertaking a bit more consideration.)

After a trip to REI for gear (where Nick Offerman makes a so-quick-if-you-blink-you’ll-miss-it appearance as a clerk), this odd couple shoves off from the AT’s start point in Georgia. Episodes along the way include encounters with annoying solo hiker Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal), a pair of fierce looking bears, a surprise snowstorm and a flirty off-trail motel operator (Mary Steenburgen).

After each episode, Katz tells Bryson, “You’ve got to put that in the book.” Bryson keeps saying he’s not going to write a book about the hike. (Of course, he did.)

Director Ken Kwapis (a man with a deep movie and TV resumé) has crafted a film that’s beautiful to look at and generally enjoyable. I would’ve liked to see more of their story, but 1:44 is long enough for most folks. The film is rated R for language, but is not particularly offensive.

A Walk In The Woods is expected to generate increased hiker traffic on the AT, just as Wild has done for the PCT. My personal desire to hike the full Appalachian Trail will have to wait until my next lifetime, but I’ll be thinking of Bryson and Katz the next time I ascend the bluff at Castlewood Park or traipse through the meadow at Queeny Park.