Of all the films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, it was a documentary called This Is Not a Robbery that pulled me in the most at first with a description that teased the real-life story of an 87-year-old bank robber. Who wouldn't want to know more about a really old guy who robbed banks? And the film itself definitely entertains for awhile, as it takes us through the life of one J.L. "Red" Rountree -- from his early days chasing skirts on a farm to his last moments on earth inside the prison system. The problems with this film don't necessarily have to do with the story (which is a fascinating one), but more with length. As with another documentary I've seen at Tribeca (Gotta Dance), after about a half hour it starts losing its steam. Here's an old guy who liked to rob banks. Here's a little bit about him and why he liked to rob banks. Now, here's another hour full of interviews (with people who can't believe he robbed banks at 87-years-old) and pretty graphics and ... do we really need all this fluff? This Is Not a Robbery would've made for an excellent, award-winning short film. As is, it's just okay. Fun for the first half hour, then a bit too repetitive from there on out.
To tell Red Rountree's bizarre story, directors Lucas Jansen, Adam Kurland and Spencer Vrooman throw us down onto a digitally-created timeline of Red's life -- then bounce back and forth between his last days as a bank robber and everything that came before. Early on, we learn Red founded a successful company buying and selling parts for drilling oil -- which, eventually, turned into a multi-million dollar business for the man. He met a beautiful woman named Faye, wined and dined her, then paid for her divorce so he could marry the gal. He brought up her son Thomas as if he was his own, and the family lived very well for a very long time. But then Red invested in a fleet of ships for a fishing business and started losing money. The banks forced Red to declare bankruptcy at one point, which he did, and from there his entire life spiraled downward.
Since Red had passed away before this film was made, the directors didn't have a chance to interview him (which hurt the film slightly). All they had to go on was an audio tape of Red and a writer interviewing him for a story right after his final arrest, in 2003, at the age of 91. This tape allowed the filmmakers to use Red's voice as a narration for most of the film, splitting up some of it with old photos and video of the real locations spoken about, as well as funky animation of an old dude going in to rob a bank. Audiences will have fun trying to figure this guy out -- after all, was he ever successful in his illegal exploits? There's no proof the man ever got away with one robbery (though, on the tape, he claims he robbed tons of banks and got away with it); the three robberies profiled all ended fairly quickly. One costumer actually tapped Red as he was leaving with the bag of money, sending the frail, 90-year-old man to the ground in pain. Red then complained that he wanted to sue when he was bailed out of jail, but his friend convinced him that he'd never get anywhere suing the folks who stopped him from robbing a bank. "You can't sue the heroes, Red," he'd told him.
This Is Not a Robbery tells a fairly sad story in a humorous way -- in a nutshell, here's a guy who turned to robbing banks when all that he loved in life was gone. Why did he do it? Some say he wanted to go out on top, with people all over the world knowing his name; his life story. If you asked Red himself why he did it, the guy would always tell you the same thing: " ... Because I hate banks!"