***1/2 out of ****
(for brief strong language)
Released: September 28, 2018 limited; October 19 wide
Runtime: 93 minutes
Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter
In a role that may be Redford’s last, it reminds us of his best.
As if pulled from a forty-year-old archive, The Old Man & the Gun is a sublime throwback of the most winsome kind, not simply for its retro delights (from its grainy 16mm film stock to Daniel Hart’s light jazzy score) but for giving Robert Redford the kind of encore that befits an icon. It’s a film worthy of him, and of the landmark era that he helped to define.
Stylistically simple yet wholly cinematic, the true story of aging thief Forrest Tucker (Redford) is told in the manner and form of director David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story) auteuristic forebears. Nostalgic as much for a time as an aesthetic, The Old Man & the Gun is a cinephile’s warm blanket that snuggles with sophisticated comforts.
Through a light touch, sly wit, and unassuming grace that almost blinds (but doesn’t) a twinkle in the eye, Lowery crafts a mood – and movie – emblematic of the man. Or, more accurately, of a romanticized American myth.
A gentleman robber who sparked fear with his gun and then soothed with his charm, Redford (re-teaming with Lowery after Disney’s Pete’s Dragon remake) plays Tucker with a warm glint, the kind of guy that no one has a bad word to say about, not even the cops that chased him or the people he held up.
A career criminal from the age of 15 and an escape artist extraordinaire (18 times from various prisons), The Old Man & the Gun follows Tucker on his last hoorah at the age of 79 when, once more on the lam, he went on a Midwestern bank robbing spree while being pursued by police and falling in love.
Both tracks weave beautifully together and are equally rewarding. The chemistry that Redford and Sissy Spacek share is so effortless that this first-time screen pairing makes us, in hindsight, feel cheated out of previous collaborations.
They both have an earthy, no nonsense ease about them, playing seniors sage enough to know that it’s actually okay to embrace giddy affections even at their age, enjoying them for what they are rather than fearful of what they might mean.
They’re not fraught by late-in-life angst. Reflective, they are at peace with their regrets, not burdened by them, extending grace rather than guilt to the things they cannot change. A studio version of this same material would’ve become bogged down by soul-searching remorse. This feels truer, and wiser.
Lowery doesn’t milk the typical geriatric laughs, either. “Professionally,” Tucker is the lead of a three-man sting, with Danny Glover and Tom Waits as his co-conspirators. These aren’t past-their-prime bumblers who’ve lost a step. They’re seasoned pros who stay in their lanes, enjoying each other’s company as they do what they do best.
The cat-and-mouse pursuit between Tucker and detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck, another alum of Lowery’s go-to troupe) is, like the film itself, casual yet substantial. Lowery builds their cross-country chase with entertaining tension, but he’s interested in more than the procedural stakes, intrigued by the cat as he is the mouse.
Affleck’s Hunt is afforded near-equal screen time as Redford’s Tucker; it’s easy to imagine a slightly different edit where the film would be about Hunt, his simple yet fulfilling family life.
Tucker and Hunt are wonderfully observed counterpoints, finding the same fulfillment through completely divergent life choices, yet both are lived with a humble gratitude. Each is living his best life in polar-opposite ways but with the same ethos. As Hunt steadily closes in, and each learns more about the other, a mutual admiration grows.
The best moment between them is one that also defies logic. It requires an incredulous suspension of disbelief, yet it’s also pure movie magic. It’s a moment that should bring an end to the whole movie about twenty minutes too early; that it doesn’t is sort of absurd.
And yet we’ve been won over by these characters and their tall (but true-ish) tale, so much so that we forgive the license. Hell, we welcome it (along with the sentimental smile that it slaps on our face). It certainly can’t be true, but we want it to be. That’s the power and beauty of the movies.
The Old Man & the Gun is an outlaw myth that gives Robert Redford a showcase for everything that has ever endeared him to us. It gives us The Sundance Kid in his twilight years, jumping off that cliff one last time, but now with the blithe confidence of someone who learned how to swim that raging river a long time ago.
Indeed, he mastered it.