This oddly charming work from director David Lowery (Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon) is based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a man who spent a great deal of his life alternating between being a very effective bank robber, getting put into a succession of prisons, and then escaping from said prisons. Written by Lowery and based on a New Yorker article by David Grann, The Old Man & the Gun is said to feature Redford’s last appearance as an actor. If that’s true, he’s picked a wonderful story that is both simple and steeped in complexity, playing a gentleman bandit pursued by a confounded Det. John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who gets so caught up in the chase that he almost forgets he eventually has to catch Tucker.
At every turn, Lowery makes choices in both his storytelling and casting that make us smile. First and foremost, Tucker’s cycle of incarceration is thrown for a loop when he meets easy-going widow Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who is taken by this still-handsome stranger with an air of mystery to him. Their conversations are the warm heart of this film, and while the two actors have never worked together before, they play off each other like they’ve been scene partners since acting school. Jewel has lived her life quite fully—her husband has died, her kids are grown and gone, and she fully expects to live out the rest of her life alone, so someone like Tucker walking into her life feels like a gift. Even after he opens up to her about his profession, she’s cautiously intrigued but not foolish about falling for a criminal.
The supporting players in The Old Man & the Gun are a hoot, from Danny Glover and singer Tom Waits as Tucker’s aging but still capable criminal sidekicks; John David Washington (recently of Blackkklansman) shows up as Hunt’s partner, although he goes absent for a great deal of the film. Director Lowery’s attention to detail is impressive, especially in the plotting of each new bank robbery and how Tucker goes through the process of actually sticking up an establishment, often never actually flashing a gun—although most of the tellers swear they saw one. It soon becomes clear that Tucker is a master of understanding human behavior and subtle persuasion, and it’s fun to see Redford seem so at ease while being so precise about his actions at all times.
Despite the presence of low-level tension throughout The Old Man & the Gun, something about it feels like a comfy recliner, and watching an often underrated actor like Redford really shine is a perfect tribute to his understanding of filmmaking. Go for the unusual story, but stay for the sweet and surprisingly moving romance between Redford and Spacek; it’s one of the better love stories you’ll see this year.
The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.
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