The Old Man & the Gun
2018, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by David Lowery. Starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Teagan Johnson, Gene Jones.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 5, 2018
Like the twinkly septuagenarian bank robber in the title, The Old Man & the Gun brims with a rascal’s charm. It’s an old-fashioned Western in disguise, one in which the bad guy has a good heart. Based on the “mostly true” story of Forrest Tucker (Redford), a lifelong criminal who spent most of his life in and out of jail (successfully escaping incarceration 16 times!), this fourth home run from filmmaker David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story) begins with a string of holdups in Texas and the surrounding area circa 1981, with the unlikely bandits a senior-citizen crew dubbed “The Over the Hill Gang” that’s led by the ever-dapper Tucker. Dressed in a blue suit and tie, topped off by a stylish fedora (with the optional fake mustache), Tucker cordially executes these crimes like a true gentleman, the flash of his handgun a harmless (but effective) prop for pulling off each job as he assures a frightened teller he means no harm (and he truly doesn’t). The guy can’t help himself – he loves the thrill of the game. He’s a geriatric adrenaline junkie, playing a high-stakes gamble with the nerve of a young man.
Without treading on the cute side (this is no Going in Style, with predictable old-fart jokes), the movie’s gentle humor constructively informs its delicate relationships, particularly between Tucker and his would-be love interest, Jewel (Spacek – so good to see her!), and the stumped Dallas police officer trying to track him down, the rumpled John Hunt (Affleck, a stalwart presence in Lowery’s oeuvre). In a telling scene in which Tucker calmly escorts Jewel out of a mall jewelry store with an expensive unpaid-for bracelet still on her wrist, you laugh at the audaciousness of his true-to-form conduct, and yet wince at her realization about the character of the man to whom she’s attracted. Likewise, another scene in which Tucker impulsively messes with an initially clueless Hunt in a restaurant bathroom initially feels like a Hollywoodized moment (a wry take on Heat, perhaps?), but the lighthearted confrontation belies the old man’s pathological need to play a game of cat and mouse.
Redford is Lowery’s muse here, in a perfectly cast role the actor professes may be his last. Whenever he effortlessly flashes that million-dollar smile, the deep creases and crow’s feet on his sun-blemished face magically disappear, and we’re seduced once again by a handsome visage and movie-star charisma matched only by his sometime partner in screen crime, Paul Newman. When a montage of photos and film clips progressively spanning Redford’s movie career appear in the guise of Tucker’s life as a career criminal toward the end of The Old Man & the Gun, it’s a sentimental journey marking a remarkable run in popular American cinema. The beauty of Redford’s rock-steady performances over the last six decades or so is that he never showed off, and yet always commanded your attention. That’s no small feat. Is this really the Sundance Kid’s swan song? Say it ain’t so, Bob.