Synopsis – Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.
My Take – On a personal level, I have a special connection with Robert Redford, mainly as his excellent 2001 spy film, Spy Game, was my first R rated affair on the big screen. Although the actor gained quick fame following the release of the release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, way back in 1969, in comparison to his contemporaries like Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, Redford never seemed to have gained the commanded respect of being an impressive actor despite some stunning performances throughout the years.
Still known mainly for his very likable screen presence, the actor has continued to charm us with strong performances in this decade as well by appearing in smaller films like Our Souls at Night and All Is Lost, while also leaving his mark in blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Pete’s Dragon. And for some reason it makes sense that the 82-year-old Hollywood legend picked this David Lowery film as his final swan song, mainly as director Lowery (A Ghost Story) seems to know how to take full advantage of Redford’s straightforward, pretty-boy simplicity for his film.
Adapted by Lowery from a 2003 article in the New Yorker about Forrest Tucker by David Grann (The Lost City of Z), the film is characterized as being mostly true. Though it takes liberties with the real story, it is an entertaining crowd pleaser that gives a strong cinematic sendoff to Redford who just seems to be really enjoying himself. Though the film takes its time telling the story at hand, it never feels like it drags, as everything happening on screen is quite effective and delightful. I don’t believe this film is going to win any awards or really be nominated for all that much, but in terms of purely enjoying a character on-screen, the film delivers on everything you’d expect, and then some. Although it almost makes me hope that the twinkle-eyed Hollywood icon is trying to trick us, the film admittedly makes a fitting farewell to the on-camera career of the legendary actor, director and producer.
Set in the early 1980s, the story follows Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), who since his teenage years is a thief and has escaped from prison according to his own account, 18 times successfully and 12 times unsuccessfully. Now in his 70s, and fresh off yet another bold escape, he is back to doing what he does best, i.e. robbing banks. Wearing a conservative navy blue suit, a fake mustache and a police scanner that can pass for a hearing aid, he politely asks for the manager, subtly flashes his gun and walks out with his leather satchel full of cash, without causing anyone any form of harm. As the police begins to close in on him, Tucker spots a stranded motorist on the side of the Dallas highway and sees as opportunity to cover himself by pulling over and pretending to help.
Unexpectedly he is instantly smitten by the woman peering under the hood of her broken-down pickup truck known as Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a quietly luminous widow about his age, and asks her out for lunch at a diner to hit it off. While Jewel is apprehensive of his supposed profession of being a sales man, she is unable to stop herself from being charmed by him. While the romance between the two continues to develop, Tucker continues his favorite job by sometime teaming up with his longtime cohorts Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), all across the Heartland, without gaining much attention.
However Tucker’s lucky streak hits a brick wall, when the three pull of a heist in a bank where John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a police detective, is standing in line as a customer with his young son. Despite going through midlife crisis himself, Hunt becomes incredibly fascinated with Tucker’s unusual methodology and obsessively begins to pursue the courtly criminal and his Over-the-Hill Gang, even as he grows to grudgingly respect the slippery old crook.
It’s impossible to watch this film without having a gigantic grin right across your face, it’s literally one of the most charming film I’ve seen in recent times. The no muss and fuss approach to armed robbery taken by Tucker is adopted by director Lowery for film making purposes. With its gentle, jazz-laced soundtrack, the film is never in any rush, nor is it terribly concerned with making any bombastic statements. Director Lowery opts for something lighter, where even the melancholy moments are more meditative than miserable. This film is really just about a man who doesn’t have many years left in his life and simply wishes to do what makes him happy.
Tucker can’t help himself—he has to keep robbing banks, long past the point when any sensible crook would hang up his pistols. Robbing banks in the most polite way that he possibly can, without ever harming anyone, and pretty much always getting away with it, the character of Forrest is absolutely perfect for the way this film portrays him. Whether he’s in a high-speed chase to the sound of a calm country song or sitting in a diner with a woman whom he’s trying to form a connection with, there’s something truthful and even moving in the way director Lowery conflates the joy of one impossible occupation with that of another.
Although the film covers plenty of familiar cat-and-mouse ground, director Lowery manages to forge new paths for this disarming true-crime tale, taking a quick jaunt into suspense, a subtle meander into mournful regret, a surprising stroll into witty comedy. Although it doesn’t have the dramatic intensity of some of Redford’s famed films, the caper takes full advantage of the actor’s keen yet casual charisma. Director Lowery also isn’t afraid to press that advantage, either, with film’s period aesthetic calling to mind Redford’s acting heyday in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s lovingly shot on 16mm film and even features a flashback that is actually a clip of a much younger Redford from the 1966 film The Chase. It also downplays the violence and danger at every turn; tellingly, the one moment where someone actually gets hurt happens entirely off-screen.
Director Lowery is more invested in Tucker’s budding romance with Jewel. The pair’s scenes together practically glow with a sexy, easygoing chemistry; their first date, at a diner later that afternoon, is exquisitely written and performed—the meet-cute as a duet of wits and mutual attraction. Yes, this is a film that addresses aging, but not in the ways you are trained to expect; no one receives a devastating medical diagnosis or yells for kids to get off their lawn. The old man isn’t wearing a hearing aid, but listening to a police scanner; when he mentions a list of things he still hasn’t tried yet, like riding a horse, his companion laughingly urges him to get moving. This is a film about having spent your entire life doing one thing and getting really good at it, to the detriment of some people and the delight of others; it’s about being an aging outlaw, a renegade with nowhere left to run.
Sure the film doesn’t ultimately wholly support Forrest’s idea of life as it ends on notes of grounded humanity that bring its mythical central figure down to heartbreaking size, but cinematographer Joe Anderson creates some beautiful images that paint Redford as a solitary cowboy, as a lone gunman, as the last example of a generation whose days have passed them by. A sequence where Forrest, driving a matte black car with bills flying out of the open trunk while a caravan of police officers chase him through an open field, is thrilling and gorgeous. And the score from Daniel Hart adds a peppy rhythm to the robbery scenes while being otherwise restrained.
However a major factor which may end up effecting the reach of the film is its slow pacing, add to that a soft piano score and Redford‘s smooth as butter voice, it may become quite hard to keep your eyes open especially after a tiring work day.
However it cannot be denied that the film ends up being a fitting homage to Robert Redford, who over his entire career has defined a certain sort of American masculinity. That sandy blond hair and that chiseled jaw and that smile, oh damn, that smile! Redford is a film legend, and here uses all of his tricks to win you over and to sweep you up. While the film is an ideal swan song for Redford, it’s also a great reminder of what a terrific actress Sissy Spacek is. With this and her recent work on Hulu’s Castle Rock, the actress is having one of her best years in a long time. Casey Affleck is equally good as a guy who’s shaken out of despondency once he has someone to chase. Tom Waits and Danny Glover are equally a delight to watch. In smaller roles, Tika Sumpter and Elisabeth Moss also manage to leave a mark. On the whole, ‘The Old Man & the Gun’ is a good old-fashioned comedy drama that is thoroughly enjoyable and an incredible swan song for Redford.
Directed – David Lowery
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 93 minutes