The Old Man & the Gun
It’s not often that you walk out of a cops-and-robbers yarn and can’t stop thinking about how sweet it was. David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun takes a bizarre true story and turns it into an elegant swan song to the charming screen presence of Robert Redford (this is theoretically his last movie, but he’s said that before) as well as a certain type of dying chivalry, movie star, and decorum.
The director recreates the 1970s period details and filmmaking style with an almost fetishistic attention to detail. However, the type of honorable rogue that he depicts goes back further. It’s a charming approach to life and character long gone and perilously close to being forgotten.
Based on a bit of oddball reporting from The New Yorker, Redford stars as Forrest Tucker, a remarkably successful bank robber who dedicated his entire adult life to the simple pleasures of walking into a bank with a gun and charming his way into taking all the money. He also broke out of prison many, many times. He was gifted at both criminal activities. He did them with a smile and always seemed to impress those he was ripping off and manipulating. The story focuses on the period at the end of Tucker’s life when he was working with two other elderly associates in what was known as “The Over the Hill Gang.”‘ (His partners are beautifully played by a typically sweet Danny Glover and a hysterically eccentric Tom Waits.) They went on a cross-country robbing spree with remarkable success and they never once fired or even threateningly held a gun.
They didn’t need to do as many robberies as they pulled off. Part of the spree was the joy of getting away with it. Eventually, their antics catch the eye of detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who was actually in the bank when one of the robberies occurred. It was such an efficient job that he didn’t even notice. Hunt slowly uncovers Tucker’s long and playful criminal history and ends up feeling somewhat impressed by and endeared to the man, even though he’s determined to bring him down. Meanwhile, Tucker also begins a very sweet romance with a simple farmer played by Sissy Spacek. They take to each other instantly and you can tell that Tucker knows this love could have just as easily been his life, but he’s not sure if he really could give up the buzz.
The film passes by in a joyful breeze. These criminals might be addicted to the game, but they certainly aren’t the “live fast, die young” type. Lowery is having a ball behind the camera, recreating the aesthetic of the old 1970s movies he enjoys and executing the many robbery set-pieces with style and efficiency. The plot has tension but not really suspense because no one involved wants any death or danger. It’s pure joy to watch unfold. The film takes full advantage of Redford’s history and iconography. Tucker is a strong and charming but deeply good man (maybe a bit boring in his personality, but not in his actions). There’s a clear lament for the loss of the type of character Redford plays and movie star presence he leaves.
For a bank-robberin’ and cop-chasin’ romp, the movie dedicates a surprising amount of time to exploring the importance of the simple joys of love of all kinds – the love from friendships, the love in finding something you’re meant to do and doing it well, and of course the love in good old-fashioned romance. In a very gentle way, the movie preaches for embracing those things as much as it laments the loss of outdated movie stars and masculine ideals, or the joy of watching a well-planned heist unfurl on screen.
There might be a vaguely tragic “end of an era” theme hanging over the proceedings, but the main emotion imparted on viewers is one of joy. The film is ultimately a very simple little lark that’s out of sync with the times in good ways and bad. However, if you’ve ever had even a mild affinity for a the cinematic pleasures that Lowery, Redford and company revel in throughout The Old Man & the Gun, there’s no way sitting down with this movie won’t brighten your day. If this is truly Robert Redford’s final film, he picked the right one to go out on.