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The Old Man & the Gun Movie Review

The Old Man & the Gun (2018) movie poster The Old Man & the Gun

Theatrical Release: September 28, 2018 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: David Lowery / Writers: David Lowery (screenplay); David Grann (New Yorker article)

Cast: Robert Redford (Forrest Tucker), Casey Affleck (John Hunt), Sissy Spacek (Jewel), Danny Glover (Teddy), Tom Waits (Waller), Tika Sumpter (Maureen), Ari Elizabeth Johnson (Abilene), Teagan Johnson (Tyler), Gene Jones (Mr. Owens), John David Washington (Lt. Kelly), Barlow Jacobs (Offerman), Augustine Frizzell (Sandra), Jennifer Joplin (Martha), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Detective Gene Dentler)

 

From early in his career, Robert Redford made his mark playing lovable scoundrels: the outlaw Sundance Kid in the iconic western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the con man Johnny Hooker in 1973's Best Picture The Sting.
It is tough to imagine a more fitting final role and film for one of the last great screen actors still working since the '60s than The Old Man & the Gun, a supremely appealing drama which stars Redford as bank thief Forrest Tucker.

Not to be confused with the actor of the same name, this Tucker was known for having escaped from prison sixteen times. And how did he end up in prison so many times? With the kind of heists that make for a PG-13 movie that requires minimal edits to air on basic cable. The film establishes Tucker early and effortlessly. He is an unusually polite and gentlemanly bank robber, who flashes a gun inside his always presentable suit jacket (or maybe just the suggestion of a gun, because we never see it) and proceeds to calmly instruct the teller or manager to fill up his briefcase with cash money.

The year is 1981 and Tucker is robbing banks on a regular basis, with the aid of two accomplices (Tom Waits and Danny Glover). The facial hair may change based on what he applies in the getaway car, but the process is largely the same. Kill them with kindness, collect the money, and then avoid capture. There's no great cause motivating Tucker, who is too charming to even be labeled an antihero. He appears to be living comfortably, but not extravagantly.

One of his bank heists occurs while Dallas police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is making a deposit with his two children. The incident inspires Hunt to pursue Tucker and his fellow geriatric associates, a group he dubs the Over the Hill Gang. Even when the Feds swoop in and take the case, Hunt still craves the chase, seemingly the only thing giving his job meaning these days.

Meanwhile, the film spends as much time following Tucker's romance of Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a kind-hearted widow he helps on the side of the road. He begins to tell her about his criminal lifestyle, but backs away from it and keeps her in the dark, as they enjoy pie and conversation as old people in the movies are wont to.

Tucker is not the kind of criminal you'd feel comfortable with Al Pacino shooting while planes fly low above. And this is certainly not Heat. The film is written and directed by David Lowery, who made a pretty lousy but surprisingly well-received family film in 2016's Pete's Dragon, in between the far more compelling indie dramas Ain't Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story, both starring Affleck and Rooney Mara. Having spent most of the latter silently hidden under a bedsheet, Affleck is visible and vocal again here and he's remarkably likable for a lawman who poses a threat to the rogue with whom our sympathies lie. The supporting performance is critical to this not playing as mere period procedural.

But, of course, the show belongs to Redford. Unlike All Is Lost, which generated awards talk that largely didn't materialize, Redford here has the benefit of story and dialogue to work with and they're both sharp and substantive. You can kind of imagine how Tucker and Jewel's friendly banter will go and even some of the sentiments that Hunt will voice to his wife (Tika Sumpter). But though so many movies -- and so many really good movies -- have tread this ground over the years, from Dog Day Afternoon to Hell or High Water, Lowery never reminds us of them in his nimble, surprisingly upbeat presentation.

There's a fun monologue that explains in a roundabout way why Tom Waits' character hates Christmas. There's an arresting climactic montage showing Tucker's many prison escapes (making brief and such appropriate use of Redford's 1966 movie The Chase). There's a fun diner bathroom scene, surely invented (hence the opening "this story, also, is mostly true" text), between Tucker and Hunt,
which is kind of a variation on Heat's famous DeNiro-Pacino sitdown. It's all well-crafted and immensely alluring, both as a swan song/career culmination for the accomplished Redford and a celebration of the kind of pure, old-fashioned, film-friendly antics that used to drive children to play Cops and Robbers.

Old Man will inevitably attract aging moviegoers, a significant demographic but one not largely on Hollywood's mind. Lowery is just 37, though, and he doesn't make movies with an old person's sensibility. Hopefully the film finds the broad appeal it would need to compete for awards other than AARP's Movies for Grownups because it's much too good not to. Whether or not Redford deservedly picks up a Best Actor Oscar nomination, which would only be his second and 45 years after his first for The Sting, it would be nice for Lowery to make more movies like this and less like the Peter Pan reimagining that is now in pre-production at Disney.

Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by David Lowery: A Ghost Story Pete's Dragon
Robert Redford: A Walk in the Woods Truth Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Sissy Spacek: Badlands 3 Women The Straight Story Blast from the Past Tuck Everlasting The Help
Tom Waits: Down by Law