THE STORY – At the age of 70, Forrest Tucker makes an audacious escape from San Quentin, conducting an unprecedented string of heists that confound authorities and enchant the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt, who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.
THE CAST – Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits & Sissy Spacek
THE TEAM – David Lowery (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes
By Beatrice Loayza
David Lowery’s follow-up to last year’s ambitious, emotionally poignant “A Ghost Story” will be a disappointment for those expecting a similarly thought-provoking time. “The Old Man And The Gun,” however, never offends so much as it plays it safe; its scope limited to being the most flattering vessel for Robert Redford’s last hurrah. This is not a bad watch by any stretch of the imagination– it is simply unremarkable. Nevertheless, “The Old Man And The Gun” is a breezy throwback to Redford’s greatest hits that flirts with old heist movie conventions and offers charming, playful performances from Redford and Sissy Spacek.
A cozy heist movie, the title will tell you a lot about what to expect. “The Old Man And The Gun” follows Forrest Tucker (Redford) and his clan of senior-citizen heist-masters, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), as they run around the country robbing banks, but never leaving without a please and thank you. Despite having broken out of jail sixteen times and counting (as shown in a snappy montage with retro font counts and even a clip of young Redford in his 1966 film “The Chase”), Tucker and company don’t rob banks simply for the financial payoffs, but as a lifestyle statement, i.e. simply for the thrill of it.
Adapted from a story of the same name published in The New Yorker in 2003, Tucker never resorts to violence or flashy hold-up exhibitionism– just the glimpse of a handgun and a simple request to the person in charge to load up his briefcase. Struck by Tucker’s gentleman-ly approach, his “victims,” if you could really call them that, end up voicing beguiled, and altogether positive impressions to lead investigator, John Hunt (a low-key Casey Affleck), whose dwindling self-esteem is existentially threatened by our sixty-something-year-old anti-hero’s spunk and virility. Lowery doesn’t really embrace Redford’s age so much as Redford’s age is a novelty, one of several quirky spins on the outlaw stereotype that Redford the actor has come to embody through the course of a long, successful career.
“The Old Man And the Gun” is an ode to Robert Redford, keeping as its focus our beloved subject: his handsome smile, that full head of hair, that flirtatious twinkle in his eyes, his ageless appeal. It’s admittedly delightful to be reminded of all these things we’ve come to love about one of the most iconic actors of our times, but in order to keep focus on this message, Lowery doesn’t seem too interested in making the crime stakes too high, the car chases too involved, or the story too dramatically substantial. Not to say there aren’t notes of Lowery’s artistry and intelligence as a director. Assuming the film can be reduced to a visual museum of the life and times of Robert Redford, Lowery uses a grainy, vintage 16mm aesthetic and a soundtrack ripped straight out of the 70’s, making “Old Man” feel like it comes straight out of the era it wants to salute. Given the look of Lowery’s poetic old-Texas soaked romance film, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” it comes as no surprise that Redford approached this filmmaker in particular to make this equally homage-focused work.
This movie was adapted with Redford in mind, so naturally, he shines as Forrest Tucker, the nimble, smart-talking charmer we all believe him to be in real life. As Jewel, Tucker’s love interest, Sissy Spacek plays a formidable match to Redford’s slick outlaw– she’s not itching for the fast and loose, but Jewel knows how to vibe with those who do. While Redford more obviously seems to be playing himself, or at least a version of his public persona, Spacek gives the same dazzling, naturalistic impression of a potential crime-seeker without (knowingly) ever getting involved— and as far as I know, she’s not going anywhere near the Oscars.
“The Old Man And The Gun” isn’t groundbreaking, but it goes down easy and carries a sustained, lovable tone throughout. There’s nothing new here, and it lacks the emotional potency that distinguishes Lowery’s past work, but there is also very little wrong to point out. Robert Redford’s final ride around the block is accompanied by a warm, gentle breeze, and few of us would be willing to pass on that seat next to him.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A tight 90-minute watch that goes down easy, with a cast led by Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek that charms all the way through to the end. Channels a throwback aesthetic that will remind audiences of Redford’s greatest hits.