The Old Man and the Gun
If this affectionate bank robber drama really is Robert Redford's last acting role, he's going out in a quiet blaze of glory.
November 15, 2018
For nearly six decades, Robert Redford has sparkled on the silver screen, dripping charm across the original The Great Gatsby, solo seafaring drama All Is Lost and everything in between. His resume is as sizeable as his charisma, but as his acting career reportedly comes to an end, the 82-year-old's allure couldn't shine brighter. The primarily 1980s-set The Old Man and the Gun is the story of two men: a real-life thief and the detective on his trail. It's also a tale that's intricately attuned to its leading man. Seeing Redford rob banks and stage heists once more feels like the perfect swansong for a talent who became a star thanks to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Likewise, that the movie is all about doing what you love couldn't feel more fitting for his final on-screen role.
After stating that The Old Man and the Gun would be his last performance, Redford somewhat walked back those comments with a 'never say never' attitude. If this does turn out to be the four-time Oscar nominee's final hurrah in front of the camera, he's leaving viewers with a treasure of a filmic goodbye that keeps its scale small and intimate, but boasts a big heart as it ponders big existential matters. A loving tribute and a wistful take on a true story combined, The Old Man and the Gun recognises that pursuing a passion is what life is all about and, if you're able to do just that, it changes everything. Much to cinema's great benefit, Redford has chased his dream through acting since 1960. The man he's playing here did the same by walking into banks and demanding their money.
Dressed respectably, hat, jacket, tie and all, Forrest Tucker's (Redford) modus operandi is always the same. He steps into a financial institution, steps up to a member of staff and courteously asks for their cash. He gestures gently towards the gun under his arm, all while conducting his stick-up politely, smoothly and with a smile. Afterwards, once he's waltzed out with the loot without customers noticing, bank employees routinely tell the police how nice he is. In his 70s and out of jail again after one of his many stints inside, Tucker is still doing what he does best, usually with long-term pals Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). Sparking up a romance with widow Jewel (Sissy Spacek) doesn't change Tucker's love for his chosen profession, and neither does the sleuthing of determined Texas cop John Hunt (Casey Affleck).
Drawn from a 2003 New Yorker article with the same evocative name, Hunt's, er, hunt for Tucker helps shade in some of the latter's backstory. But this isn't about documenting all of the details, with getting a sense of the eponymous old man more important than working through his biography. That's what Jewel does, as their relationship progresses even after Tucker is upfront about his line of work. The film follows her cues, offering a casual stroll through the twilight years of its likeable and kindly criminal. Shot in warm tones on 16mm stock, and given the nostalgic sheen of someone reflecting on fond memories, it may be a bank robber drama, a detective quest and a romance all in one — but it's first and foremost an affectionate yarn about its engaging protagonist and his dedication to remaining true to his outlaw self.
In other words, The Old Man and the Gun fits snuggly into the oeuvre of writer-director David Lowery, who has amassed an impressive resume with his four movies to date. Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Pete's Dragon and A Ghost Story might seem worlds away from the filmmaker's latest effort, and from each other, but the yearning need to remain true to oneself sits at the centre of each. Lowery also excels at splashing emotion across the screen subtly but powerfully. It's there when he lingers on the twinkle in Redford's eye, and when he documents Tucker's many prison escapes by using footage from across the actor's career. And, it's evident in the film's other standout performance. Harking back to her breakout role in Badlands, Spacek once again falls for someone who's committed to doing wrong, and once again gleams, this time like her character's name. That makes The Old Man and the Gun a gorgeous and entertaining ode to not just one cinema legend, but two.