There’s something fascinating about characters who just don’t know when to quit. Real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker was one such dreamer, making a career of daring heists well into his eighth decade. So when Robert Redford cast about for a final project to close his acting career, the story of Tucker – perhaps ironically – leaped out as the perfect farewell. Redford wanted something fun, but not without depth; something irrepressible but not weightless. If this is his last role, Redford has succeeded in going out with a bang – and unlike Tucker, he doesn’t have to keep looking over his shoulder for the cops.
Redford recruited writer and director David Lowery to adapt the tale. The pair had worked together on Lowery’s charming Pete’s Dragon, a lighter project for the director between the more philosophical Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story. This time, Lowery creates a sort of hybrid, with all the careful attention to 1980s period, place and character that he brings to his indie films, and all the charm he gave that children’s fantasy. With the help of a stellar cast, they give Tucker’s story vivid, engaging life.
We meet Forrest Tucker in his seventies, dapper in a pale blue suit and with a cheery twinkle in his eye. Then he quietly, efficiently robs the bank where Detective James Hunt (Casey Affleck) is waiting to make a deposit. Tucker might be at retirement age, but he’s still making a career of robbery all over the American south, sometimes with the help of his Over The Hill Gang of Teddy Green (Danny Glover), and Waller (Tom Waits). He even manages to strike up a relationship with a beautiful widow, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), along the way, when she breaks down by the side of the road. And although he senses Hunt closing in on him, there’s always the lure of one last job. He’s already escaped from prison 18 times, so why worry too much about getting caught?
Reality, of course, isn’t quite as kind as Tucker’s blithe hopes would have it, but his story is extraordinary, full of daring escapades and even more daring escapes. It benefits from everything we know of Redford’s past; the shadows of the Sundance Kid and The Sting’s Hooker add to his portrayal of Tucker, and head shots from his early films provide Tucker’s mugshots. But that resonance is only a small part of this film’s success. Alongside Lowery’s direction and the cast’s strong work overall, this is really a demonstration of Redford’s still-potent star power, and a triumphant, grinning victory lap before he quits the field.