In Theaters

What gives us personal satisfaction? That’s something many of us chase down throughout our lives, and some of us are fortunate enough to find it. But is this a quest we should pursue at any cost, especially if the goals are dubious? That’s a question posed in the new, fact-based biopic, “The Old Man & the Gun” (web site, trailer).

Septuagenarian Forrest Tucker (not the actor) (Robert Redford) desperately wants to stay young, so much so that he actively looks for ways to help himself hold on to that feeling. But, instead of doing things like jogging, driving sports cars or going to singles bars – activities typical of aging men trying to preserve their youth in the 1970s – he’s found a pursuit uniquely his own: he robs banks.

Strange as that may sound, though, it’s common practice for him, given that he’s been doing it most of his life. Ever since he was a teen, Forrest has been engaged in various forms of crime, and he’s perfected his techniques to the point where he’s practically refined them as an art form. By employing his signature hold-up style of using incomparable politeness to defuse most of the tension typically associated with such situations, he’s able to carry out his heists without anyone ever getting hurt or firing a shot from the gun he allegedly packs in his overcoat. And he gets away with it every time, leaving the bank employees who freely execute his genial requests feeling unthreatened, if not outright calm.

Incomparably polite bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford, right) charms virtually everyone he meets, including Jewel (Sissy Spacek, left), a widow whom he meets when he stops to offer her roadside assistance when she experiences car trouble, in the delightful new biopic, “The Old Man & the Gun.” Photo by Eric Zachanowich © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

With a string of successful robberies across several states in the Southern Plains, he’s become something of a charming legend. His well-honed knowledge of police radio electronics helps him track when and how authorities are pursuing him, and his geriatric partners in crime, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), provide the necessary reconnaissance and diversions that allow him to carry out his plans. As the leader of the so-called Over the Hill Gang, Forrest scores big and often, thwarting those who want to track him down. It’s quite a scheme.

Considering how much money he takes in, one might think Forrest lives large, but such is not the case. He freely shares the spoils of his efforts with Teddy and Waller, and he lives a rather modest, low-key life in middle-class suburbia. Rather than flaunt the rewards of his success, he stashes most of his bounty for safekeeping or uses it to help those whom he cares about, such as Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow with car trouble whom he stops to assist while fleeing one of his bank capers. He takes quite a liking to the roadside damsel in distress, too, prompting him to start seeing her on a regular basis between robberies, always careful to keep the truth of his ways from her.

Incomparably polite and eminently fearless bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford, left) is so confident in his abilities to evade capture that he even goes so far as to taunt his would-be captor, Police Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck, right), in director David Lowery’s latest offering, “The Old Man & the Gun.” Photo by Eric Zachanowich © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Needless to say, authorities are confounded that the kindly thief keeps getting away with his crimes. Time after time, the police are frustrated when they interview dumbstruck bank employees who are so overwhelmed by the perpetrator’s charm that they can’t help but comply with his requests. Most officials come to believe that, because of the wily criminal’s ways, they’ll likely never catch him. But not Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck); he’s convinced that the suspect can be collared with some good, old-fashioned police work – and a willingness to look past the polite magnetism that has so effectively clouded everyone else’s perspective.

Thus begins a game of cat and mouse between Forrest and his pursuer. Can the constable get his man? Or will Forrest perpetually elude capture? And, if he is caught, can he stay locked up? As Hunt discovers during his investigation, his suspect has successfully escaped incarceration 16 times throughout his life. That’s quite a track record – and one that will be hard to challenge, even if the sly senior is captured and locked up.

Given how Forrest goes about his business, though, one can’t help but wonder, why does he do it? Why go to all the trouble of planning elaborate bank heists if he’s not going to enjoy the rewards of his efforts? And, considering his age, given what time he likely has left, why risk his being caught or killed for a seemingly pointless life of crime?

Teddy (Danny Glover, left) and Waller (Tom Waits, right), the supporting members of the Over the Hill Gang, a band of geriatric bank robbers who successfully knock off facility after facility, provide the reconnaissance required to carry out their plan, as seen in “The Old Man & the Gun.” Photo by Eric Zachanowich © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

As strange as all that may sound, however, Forrest sees his actions as anything but pointless. He may not employ his monetary gains to lead a lavish lifestyle, but he still gets something out of his actions. From his perspective, there’s something to be said for engaging in a pursuit that simply helps make one feel alive, regardless of the consequences and irrespective of how the fruits of one’s labor are put to use (or not put to use).

Bank robber Willie Sutton once said he held up these institutions simply because “that’s where the money is.” Maybe Forrest took a page from that playbook and followed in his counterpart’s footsteps because he just wants the thrill, the adrenalin rush that accompanies his actions. Given Forrest’s advancing years, maybe he needs something like this to keep him young and vital, to feel like he is still, in fact, present in his own skin. And, since he goes about his business in a manner that minimizes the risk to himself and to others, perhaps he believes he can do this to get his thrills without anyone getting hurt.

Forrest’s “hobby” may not be one for most of us. It’s difficult to sanction criminal activity under any circumstances. However, at the same time, one can’t help but admire someone who has the courage, forthrightness and fortitude to pursue what he believes is necessary to help him feel engaged with life, what it means to be an active and involved part of his existence. If nothing else, it certainly helps one avoid the regrets many of us may have for not pursuing what we want to do to accomplish that goal. That, for example, is a concern that Detective Hunt freely acknowledges about the nature of his own life. He worries that he’s wasting away his days in an unfulfilling job that doesn’t deliver the happiness and satisfaction he seeks, a concern he expresses to his wife (Tika Sumpter) and even his kids (Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Teagan Johnson).

In what is said to be his cinematic swan song, Robert Redford gives a delightfully understated performance as septuagenarian bank robber Forrest Tucker in the new fact-based biopic, “The Old Man & the Gun.” Photo by Eric Zachanowich © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Some might be worried that Forrest’s story carelessly glorifies criminal activity, and that’s certainly a legitimate concern. At the same time, though, it also makes the case for the value of chasing one’s dreams, even those of a questionable nature, if they lead to personal fulfillment. Life is shorter than most of us realize, especially when we’re young. Do we really want to approach the finish line feeling like we’ve squandered our temporal capital by playing it safe or squelching impulses that end up unfulfilled? Forrest’s story may take a backhanded way in making this point, but it’s a valid contention nevertheless, one we should all ponder before the clock runs out.

Director David Lowery’s charming and curiously inspiring tale about living life on one’s own terms, even when questionable activities are involved, entertains with charm, wit and gentle humor. In what is said to be Robert Redford’s cinematic swan song, the acting legend shines in a quietly understated role, one backed by an excellent supporting cast who know how to complement their colleague without outshining him. This delightful comedy-drama is a fitting tribute to round out a storied acting career.

In an age where many feel overwhelmed, if not numb, to an oppressive, claustrophobic world closing in on us, the desire to genuinely feel connected, even alive, may be equally compelling. This longing may lead to behavior aimed at breaking out of this encroaching cage, actions that some see as debatable, perhaps antisocial. But is it not preferable to maintain our personal sovereignty, even if disapproved of by others, rather than capitulating to an act of personal surrender? In his own way, this criminal folk hero lived his truth, despite the consequences, as long as it allowed him to maintain his sense of self. And, with such an intention at stake, who can argue with that?

A complete review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

Testing the Limits of a Parent’s Love

How far should parents go in looking after their children? Some would say that there are no limits on this question, that mothers and fathers should be willing to do whatever it takes to attend to their kids. But is that really true? And what happens when those children are on the verge of becoming adults themselves – do the same rules apply as when they’re youngsters, especially if they become embroiled in challenges seemingly of their own making? However, no matter what happens, they’re still one’s kids, and there’s a natural tendency toward being protective that automatically kicks in. Those are among some of the tough questions addressed in the new, fact-based family drama, “Beautiful Boy” (web site, trailer).

There’s virtually nothing that successful free-lance writer David Sheff (Steve Carell) won’t do for his kids, especially his first-born son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet). As the product of David’s first marriage to his ex-wife, Vicki (Amy Ryan), Nic has just turned 18 and is facing his future. He’s a rather creative sort and is contemplating following in his dad’s footsteps by becoming a writer. And, by all appearances, father and son have what seems to be a tight bond and healthy relationship, one that’s perhaps better than what most parents and children experience. But is that really the case?

As much as David loves Nic, he begins noticing that things may not be as good as he believes they are. Occasionally erratic behavior surfaces, including evidence of accidents and unexplained disappearances. David grows concerned that there may be problems lurking beneath the surface of a superficial veil of happiness and contentment, and he wants to do what he can to help. Nic pretends that everything is fine, but, as becomes apparent, that’s far from the truth.

David suspects that Nic may be involved with drugs. Having experimented with various substances himself in his youth and realizing that such experiences are a rite of passage for many during adolescence, he’s reluctant to come down heavily on his son for fear of being seen as a hypocrite, fully aware that such activities are part of growing up. But, when matters start getting out of hand, David realizes he needs to intervene, not only for his and Nic’s welfare, but also to protect the rest of his family, including his current wife, Karen (Maura Tierney), and their two children, Jasper (Christian Convery) and Daisy (Oakley Bull).

Drug-addicted teen Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet, center) struggles to overcome his demons, but, fortunately, he has the support of a loving family behind him, including his father David (Steve Carell, right), stepmother Karen (Maura Tierney, center, back to camera) and step-siblings Daisy (Oakley Bull, left) and Jasper (Christian Convery, second from right), in the new, fact-based family drama, “Beautiful Boy.” Photo by Francois Duhamel, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

In an attempt to nip matters in the bud, Nic enters rehab, a program that seems to bring promising results. However, as Nic’s counselor Julia (Stefanie Scott) acknowledges, success without backslides is not guaranteed, that relapse is frequently part of recovery. That’s further complicated by the fact that Nic’s drug of choice is crystal meth, a particularly difficult habit to kick given how it insidiously impacts brain function, an eye-opening discovery David makes when he meets with a medical expert (Timothy Hutton) well versed in the subject.

But David’s concerns don’t stop with understanding the mechanics of drug addiction. He wonders if there are things that he did – or didn’t do – in raising Nic that have prompted him to adopt his self-medicating ways. Did his divorce from Vicki have an impact? Was he too permissive or too controlling as a parent? Did his marriage to a new wife interfere with his relationship with his son? But, no matter how many questions David asks himself, there are no easy answers, and perhaps he needs to come to terms with the idea – painful though it may be – that the only one who is going to solve Nic’s problem is Nic.

Learning what it means to let go of something one can’t control is rarely an easy lesson, and it’s an issue that David must, unfortunately, address. Nic’s recurrent relapses and stints in and out of rehab wear heavily on the entire family, especially when it seems that the cycle of self-destruction is unending. David must learn when to be supportive and when to let his son work out challenges on his own, a difficult balance to strike for virtually any parent, no matter how old their kids may be.

At the same time, Nic needs to learn what it means to accept responsibility for his actions, even though the underlying cause may be something seemingly out of his control. He must discover what coping mechanisms are available to him and how to embrace them when the need arises, a definite challenge when the lure of drug-induced escape is always nearby and when the guilt associated with past hurts to oneself and to others hangs heavily in the air. Success in overcoming these issues is possible, but Nic must ask himself if he’s up to it.

Worried parents David Sheff (Steve Carell, right) and wife Karen (Maura Tierney, left) struggle to figure out how to help their drug-addicted teenage son in director Felix Van Groeningen’s latest release, “Beautiful Boy.” Photo by Francois Duhamel, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Based on the books Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff, director Felix Van Groeningen’s latest offering provides an up-close look at the perils of drug addiction and the pain of parents learning to let go of their adult children. While the film is somewhat formulaic with a penchant for repetitiveness, this searing drama nevertheless makes its points abundantly clear and offers helpful suggestions about what the afflicted and their familiars can do under such conditions. What shines the most here, though, are the heartfelt performance of Carell and a riveting revelatory turn by Chalamet, a portrayal far better than his previous (and much overrated) work. “Beautiful Boy” doesn’t break especially new ground cinematically or in its narrative, but it conveys its heartfelt message quite capably and effectively addresses an epidemic problem sorely in need of being brought under control.

The choices we face in life aren’t always easy. Sometimes we have to free ourselves of burdens that are more than we can bear. And, at other times, we have to take them on, particularly when they involve lessons of personal responsibility. However, such challenges are always easier to handle when we know that we have backing for what we undertake, even if it’s only in the form of moral support and encouragement, for the effects of such assistance will make their way through to those in need of it. How beautiful is that?

A complete review will appear in the near future by clicking here.

That’s a Wrap 

The 54th annual Chicago International Film Festival recently completed another successful run in the Windy City, featuring many fine domestic and foreign offerings. And, in a current blog on my web site, titled “Wrapping Up the Chicago Film Festival”, I offer my take on nine of the pictures screened at the annual event. Find out more about these titles, with links for further information, such as availability, release dates, trailers and plot summaries. This was an especially good year for comedies, so, if you’re like me and could use a good laugh these days, check out some of the Festival’s featured films. Happy viewing!

Jamie Lee Curtis (left) and Tika Sumpter (right) give stellar performances in the new, edge-of-your-seat political thriller, “An Acceptable Loss,” one of the outstanding new features presented at the recently completed Chicago International Film Festival. 

Movies, Movies, Movies! 

Join host Frankie Picasso and me for a full hour of Movies with Meaning on the next episode of The Good Media Network’s Frankiesense & More broadcast on a special day and time, Thursday, October 25, at 12 pm ET. We’ll discuss a number of new movie releases, as well as highlights of the recently completed Chicago International Film Festival.  For the video version, tune in on Facebook Live by clicking here. And, for the audio only podcast edition, check out The Good Media Network’s home page by clicking here. Join us for some fun movie chat!

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.