Even if this doesn’t end up being Robert Redford’s final film as an actor, it’s understandable why he’d be tempted to make it his swan song.
Redford’s decades-long status as a screen icon has always leaned more on charm than range, and The Old Man & the Gun wears that strategy like a favorite pair of broken-in boots.
Director/co-writer David Lowery adapts a magazine article on a likable rogue named Forest Tucker, who broke out of San Quentin at the age of 70 and earned his folk hero status with a string of brazen bank robberies.
Tucker (Redford, natch) plots the heists with his grey-haired gang of two (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) and flirts with the farm-living Jewel (Sissy Spacek) while lawman John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on his tail.
And the old scalawag couldn’t be happier while doing it.
The story is light and whimsical, but thanks to the veteran actors and the slyly understated direction, it’s got a frisky heart that won’t quit. Watching Redford and Spacek together is a joy in itself, as Jewel’s bemused-but-curious reaction to her new suitor only brings more twinkles to his eye. Then there’s Affleck easily filling Hunt with the perfect strain of frustration-laced respect, and Waits delivering some deliciously dry one-liners.
But it’s Lowery who may be the real wonder here. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon and A Ghost Story, he again shows unique storytelling instincts no matter what tonal gears he’s shifting. This film is a satisfied mosey, one that serves as a sunset ride for a Hollywood legend while letting the exploits of a charming bandit reinforce the value of just loving what you do.
For Tucker, it was robbing banks. For Redford, it was being an iconic leading man.
The rock star/horror movie crossover seems a natural extension of the darkness and cool of each, and it has happened countless times. Some of the crossovers are almost too obvious – Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat or Grace Jones as an aggressive stripper/vampire in Vamp. John Mellencamp, Iggy Pop, Cherie Curie, Jon Bon Jovi, and, of course, Meat Loaf – these rockers and others have lined up to dance with the dead.
But here are the best rock star performances in horror.
Let us just get this out of the way now – we don’t care for this film. Yes, John Carpenter is a master of horror, but this film felt stale in ’87 and it has not aged well.
However, perhaps the greatest stroke of genius Carpenter had when filming was to cast Alice Cooper as the leader of the demon-possessed band of shopping cart people.
As scientists and theologians hole up inside an abandoned church in a very bad neighborhood, they begin to notice the attention of the silent, menacing homeless man outside. And every time they look, he has more friends. It is possibly the only genuinely chilling image in the film, and much of the success is due to Cooper’s effortlessly menacing presence.
Alice Cooper’s stage persona makes him a perfect fit in horror – perhaps moreso than any other rock star. Indeed, he’s gone on to play Freddy Krueger’s father, a vampire, and all manner of supernatural lowlife in film. But for his most unsettling turn, all he needed was a disheveled appearance and his own natural presence.
5. Tom Waits: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Francis Ford Coppola took his shot at Dracula in ’92. How’d he do?
Cons: Keanu Reeves cannot act. Winona Ryder can act – we’ve seen her act – but she shows no aptitude for it here, and lord she should not do accents. Anthony Hopkins has always enjoyed the taste of scenery, but his performance here is just ham-fisted camp.
Pros: Tom Waits as Renfield – nice! Creepy yet sympathetic, with that haggard voice, Waits brings a wizened mania to the character that’s more than refreshing. Likewise, Gary Oldman, who can chomp scenery with the best chewers in the biz, munches here with great panache. He delivers a perversely fascinating performance. His queer old man Dracula, in particular – asynchronous shadow and all – offers a lot of creepy fun.
Still, there’s no looking past Ryder, whose performance is high school drama bad.
4. Henry Rollins: He Never Died (2015)
With a funny shuffle step and a blank stare, Henry Rollins announces Jack, anti-hero of the noir/horror mash up He Never Died, as an odd sort.
Jack, you see, has kind of always been here. The “here” in question at the moment is a dodgy one bedroom, walking distance from the diner where he eats and the church where he plays bingo. An exciting existence, no doubt, but this mindlessness is disturbed by a series of events: an unexpected visit, a needed ally with an unfortunate bookie run-in, and a possible love connection with a waitress.
From the word go, He Never Died teems with deadpan humor and unexpected irony. Casting Rollins in the lead, for instance, suggests something the film actively avoids: energy. The star never seethes, and even his rare hollers are muted, less full of anger than primal necessity.
Rollins’s performance is strong, offering Jack as a solitary figure who clings to all things mind numbing as a way to pass the time without complication or human interaction. As a survival mechanism, he’s all but forgotten how to behave around humanity, a species he regards without needless sentimentality.
3. Sting: Brimstone & Treacle (1982)
Easily the best acting of Sting’s career, his con man Martin turns out to be a far more malevolent presence in the Bates household than poor Norma (Joan Plowright – wonderful as always) and Tom (Denholm Elliott) could imagine.
Martin feigns a fainting spell on the street long enough to lift Tom’s wallet. When he returns it – cash light – to the address on the license, he quickly eyeballs the surroundings and claims to be the fiancé of their bedridden daughter Pattie (Suzanna Hamilton).
The film mines layer after layer of repression – societal, sexual, religious and other – as it plays on your constantly expanding sense of dread. Sting is wonderful. His playfully evil performance and the way he eyes the audience/camera gives him the air of something far more unwholesome than your run of the mill conman. Maybe even something supernatural.
2. Debbie Harry: Videodrome (1983)
As bizarre as anything he ever made – even Cosmopolis – Videodrome shows an evolution in David Cronenberg’s preoccupations with body horror, media, and technology as well as his progress as a filmmaker.
James Woods plays sleazy TV programmer Max Renn, who pirates a program he believes is being taped in Malaysia – a snuff show, where people are slowly tortured to death in front of viewers’ eyes.
Punk goddess Deborah Harry co-stars as a seductress intrigued by the slimy Renn. Harry is, as always, effortlessly sultry – a quality that works queasyingly well in this Cronenberg head trip.
But the real star is Cronenberg, who explores his own personal obsessions, dragging us willingly down the rabbit hole with him. Corporate greed, zealot conspiracy, medical manipulation all come together in this hallucinatory insanity that could only make sense with the Canadian auteur at the wheel.
Long live the new flesh!
1. Bowie: The Hunger (1983)
Tony Scott’s seductive vampire love story has a little bit of everything: slaughter, girl-on-girl action, ’80s synth/goth tunage, David Bowie. What more can you ask?
Actually the film’s kind of a sultry, dreamily erotic mess. Oh, the gauzy, filmy curtains. It looks great, but the internal logic of the vampirism as a disease doesn’t work very well. Lots of meaningless parallels with some experiment apes don’t help.
Catharine Deneuve is the old world vampire Miriam, David Bowie is her lover. But he suddenly begins aging, and she needs to find a replacement. Enter Susan Sarandon as a medical specialist in unusual blood diseases and a fine actress who’s not above smooching other girls.
There are three reasons people still watch it: Bowie, Catherine Deneuve’s seduction of Susan Sarandon (classy!), and the great dark-wave Bauhaus number Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Together it’s a Goth Trifecta! And Goths do love them some vampires.
Sure, you probably caught Woody Harrelson and his shaggy blond wig in Catching Fire, the number one film in the country today (and for the foreseeable future). But this weekend,Woody sneaks back into theaters as the Appalachian meth dealer/bare knuckle boxing organizer Harlan DeGroat in Out of the Furnace. Though you might not notice it at first blush, the two characters have something in common. They’re weirdos. Is that intentional, or is it difficult for Harrelson to do anything else? He’s a tremendous character actor, a welcome sight in any film, but let’s be honest. The dude’s always and forever playing weirdos.
Well, we love that about him, and today we wish to celebrate all those reliable oddballs, freaks and weird dudes. A tip of the hat to Harrelson and his effortlessly peculiar brethren: cinema’s ten best weirdos.
10. Udo Kier
Who’s Udo Kier, you may be asking? We’re sorry for your loss, because you have apparently missed out on the smorgasbord of oddballs that have made up this man’s nearly 50 year career. Between his overly large eyes, wet lips and impenetrable accent, he brings a pervy air to every role, which he’s used to great effect in hundreds of performances.
9. Michael Shannon
Shannon’s size, his quietly observant style, his delayed nasal speaking, his judging eyes all give him a creepy quality perfect for weirdo roles. Luckily for everyone, he’s deeply talented, imbuing each of his unique characters with the fragile humanity that spawned the freaky behavior in the first place.
8. Sam Rockwell
Rockwell’s a huge talent, and with his trademark quirky charm he’s basically invented the niche of oddball leading man. There’s a childlike quality to his performances, and a laid back but somewhat scornful humor that reminds us at times of Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray. He brings a magnetic but quirky humanity to every role – drama or comedy, lead or supporting.
7. Tom Waits
That gravely, smoker’s voice, the Eraserhead-esque hairstyle, a face and body that appear to be all angles – Waits cuts an unusual onscreen image. He’s put that to fine use over the years in roles that call for something a little unusual.
6. Mickey Rourke
Back in the day, Rourke brought a uniquely smoldering charisma to roles. He was never a cookie cutter leading man, always a bit off. His current hulking appearance and years of bad decisions have thrust him into the niche of the lumbering nutjob, but you know what? He handles it with aplomb.
5. Dennis Hopper
Dude! It may have been Hopper’s own bad wiring that helped him bring a little mania (sometimes a lot) to scores of roles: the wacked out hippie in Easy Riders, the wacked out zealot in Apocalypse Now, the obsessive investigator in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the Southern madman in Paris Trout, the drunken father in Hoosiers. But he owns it in among the all time great freakshow performances, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet.
4. Willem Dafoe
Dafoe brings a malevolent comic ability to roles – including his supporting turn opposite Harrelson in Out of the Furnace. His performances tend toward fearless, and he contorts his own physical presence to bring out the demonic or the strangely comical – or both – in each role.
3. Christopher Walken
The great. Whether he’s requesting cowbell on SNL, adding a peculiar charm to a comedy, or staring down a man about to die in a drama, Walken’s staccato delivery, blank stare and musical timing ensure that every line he delivers feels profoundly, often unsettlingly weird.
2. Crispin Glover
The thing about Crispin Glover (McFly!) is that you get the feeling this is just how he is. He’s drawn to the characters that most closely resemble his own unique personality. I’m not saying he eats cockroaches, but a romantic lead is probably not in his future, on camera or otherwise.
1. Nic Cage
Cage wins this contest because he appears to have trouble not being a weirdo. Channeling his inner normal guy seems to sometimes be too great a task for the actor. Those ridiculous wigs only hamper any effort to mask his natural freakishness, but we say don’t hide it, Nic! Let that freak flag fly.