This Story Is Mostly True
Forrest Tucker [Redford] is an elderly bank robber who utilises manners and courtesy to calmly elicit bank managers to empty their registers. His charm and cool-headedness is a breath of fresh air and his age affords him an anonymity that allows him to slip in and out, virtually undetected. So much so that Detective Hunt [Affleck] is in line at one of the very banks that is robbed by Tucker. So begins the story of tracking Tucker’s various hits over the years in an effort to uncover the thief’s identity and apprehend him.
From the opening shots, it is very apparent that a great deal of influences and homages to heist films of the 70s and 80s are at play. Evocatively shot in the perfect locations, this movie looks and feels like something discovered rather than something produced, as if some long lost reel of footage has been processed and revealed this feature. To say the cinematography is nostalgic is putting it lightly but it is genuinely a masterclass in reproduction; extracting the best of the decade while incorporating contemporary cuts and angles to produce something altogether thoroughly pleasing. On top of that the hair, makeup and costume design are all fantastic and really bring the period to life in a way that many “in our lifetime” period films seem to fail at.
The majority of praise for this movie will come down to the central performance. Without malicious intent or defined backstory, Tucker is a folktale-esque creation; a real-life criminal but one draped in enough whimsy to elevate him to that of a cheeky good ol’ boy unlike, say, Michael Mann’s portrayal of John Dillinger in Public Enemies which was injected with a dour level of seriousness throughout. This isn’t just attached to Redford’s character, however, every performance has a simple innocence to it and a powerful level of shared charm and charisma to create this impossible time and place in history. In truth, it feels like everyone connected to Tucker is in some way sleepwalking through their life until he enters it and perks them up. Nowhere is this more present than Detective Hunt, who starts the film tired and miserable at the prospect of turning forty but by the time the film closes, is a rejuvenated man, his energy reborn anew. Sissy Spacek is also magnificent as Jewel, who enters Forrest’s life by chance but proves herself an independent, capable individual who relishes Tucker’s company but has no qualms lightly taking him to task over his chosen profession. And this smooth chemistry is really what sells the whole film. Tucker is a rascal, Jewel is a lady and Hunt is a good man but they all seem to respect one another. And it’s that attitude that will both enthral a certain generation and really ostracise another. Of course I’m not saying there isn’t a place for this type of story but in a time where we are addressing issues of inequality in the execution of justice, this rapscallious jaunt feels antiquated and horribly rose-tinted. Sure, certain audience members will love the wily “still got it” attitude of Tucker as he politely asks for money to be emptied from registers and effortlessly escapes custody but others will see it as a slap in the face when those of other ethnicities would be gunned down for less. This is why films like Hell Or High Water cut a more accurate feel of how bank robberies in Texas would go – even if the events depicted here are true.
But putting that aside for a moment, the film has a few issues that stem from its effortless style. The first being just that: everything feels effortless. The stakes are low, the tension is entirely absent and the pacing is horrifically sluggish; for an hour and a half film, the runtime feels like an extra hour has been squeezed in there somewhere. Another comparison is the incredibly tense, fast paced, hyper-cut American Animals which allows the audience to empathise with and pity the central criminals but never cheer them on. Everything about this film is the opposite, it knows what it’s trying to say and the more you listen, the more you seem to realise it has nothing to do with robbing banks and more to do with an actor’s swan song. But the film is far from offensive and in truth, never gets to the stage where it becomes boring, it just dodders along, doing its thing and for a lot of people, this steady-paced treatment will be a welcome sight.
7th December 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
There are a host of prominent faces in very small supporting roles from Keith Carradine’s two minute background role, John David Washington’s practically non-existent role and Elisabeth Moss’ single short scene. They are all perfectly serviceable and there’s nothing unusual about their character’s screen time but the actors in their shoes feel somewhat wasted and underutilised. Even Danny Glover and Tom Waits, who are Tucker’s partners are given so little to do that their (arguably more interesting) stories never really get resolved, simply left open to interpretation.
While out shopping one day, Jewel tries on a bangle and while the cashier assists another customer, Tucker takes his friend by the arm and leads her out of the store. In the thrill of the moment, Jewel laughs and is momentarily thrilled at the prospect of theft before rolling her eyes at Tucker, grabbing his elbow and dragging him back to the store. She plays on her age, offering an apology saying she left without realising it was still on and then forces Tucker to pay for the item. The whole thing is very light hearted but the perfect example of how a trite setup can be made entertaining and rather delightful by two seasoned pros.
“I know what I’m doing and what I’m capable of. And these days, those are two different things”
In A Few Words:
“Like its central character, this film’s calm collected manner will take you by surprise but fails to walk away with a huge score”