Review: The Old Man and the Gun
Imagine you’re working as a teller at a bank. A geriatric old man, dressed sharply in a suit, tie, and shined shoes calmly strolls up to your desk and warmly informs you of the gun in his pocket. This is a bank robbery. However, this is not done in brazen mannerisms like those reported on the news, but done quietly and with a smile, including pleases and thank you’s. The old man walks out of the bank like nothing has happened and you’re left with an empty till, a puzzled look on your face, and an inability to put together what in the world just happened.
This is the concept behind David Lowery’s newest film, The Old Man and the Gun, starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, and Casey Affleck. The film is based off a captivating article that David Grann (author of The Lost City of Z) wrote for The New Yorker, appropriately named the “The Old Man and the Gun”. Reading the article, it’s easy to become entranced by the life of Forrest Tucker. Grann interviewed Tucker while he was in jail yet again. At the time of the article Tucker had been in and out of jail for crimes since he was 15 years old, having escaped prison eighteen times with twelve unsuccessful attempts.
Tucker was an 81 year old man who couldn’t give up the rush of the heist. He sacrificed family, friends and a normal life to pursue the only thing in his life that brought him joy. He spilled everything he could to Grann, teaching him how to rob a bank, among other things. Tucker included every ornate detail he could: attire, getaway car, police radio, hearing aid to tell if anyone trips a silent alarm, and a gun for prop purposes. The miraculous thing about these heists is that Tucker really never needed the money. He wanted to become famous, to make a name for himself like John Dillinger. And even though Tucker passed away in 2004, he can rest easy knowing his one wish in life came true, the film about his life is now complete.
Robert Redford plays the illusive Forrest Tucker a man with many aliases but little in the way of relationships. That is until he meets a woman named Jewel played by Sissy Spacek. While their romance begins to blossom, Tucker forms a small heist gang with two other men (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) who are suitably labeled “The Over-the-Hill Gang” by the FBI and media. Tucker spills the beans to Jewel who is hesitant as first, but slowly comes to believe him as he reveals more about himself. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is hot on the trail of Tucker, putting the pieces together and connecting dots of crimes Tucker has committed throughout the US. However, his life comes to a halt when he’s turned over to the police by a member of his own gang.
The first thing that came to mind after seeing this film is that it was utterly charming. It’s so refreshing to see a film with an older generation of actors and actresses being given meaty and substantial roles. Also, seeing Tom Waits cameo in anything is always a plus. It’s peculiarly pleasing to watch a movie about an older man, dressed to the nines, robbing banks with nothing but smile. It’s something you don’t normally see from films in 2018. It also helps that Redford is such a likable actor and person. You can tell that he loves to ‘act’, which isn’t dissimilar to the character he plays here. Redford recently proclaimed that he was retiring from acting. Even though we have heard this statement from him many times before, it seems as though people really believe this is the end. Much like Tucker, it seems that Redford has difficulty staying away, which makes his role in The Old Man and the Gun feel all the more like a metaphor for his personal life. It’s difficult to foresee Redford ever hanging up the towel as even he himself seems unsure of his decision.
My primary criticism then is that the movie feels a little slight, there is something missing. The movie never transitions from being fun into being something more substantial. After reading the article it was inspired by, there are some pieces of information that, were they in the film, could have been enough to give the movie the dramatic heft it desperately needs. Character development is a bit dismal as we do not know too much about characters pasts or motivations beyond the surface, and at a significant point in the movie a key character disappears without any information as to why. Then there is the Wes Anderson-esque montage in the final act of the film that shows us all of Tucker’s 18 escapes from prison which completely takes away from the pace of the film. While it is a fun little moment; it‘s incongruous with the rest of the film. The good thing is, thankfully, it doesn’t ruin how enjoyable the movie is as a whole.
Watching films where you can feel the cast having a blast making the movie, and loving what they do, is a joyful experience. The Old Man and the Gun provides exactly that (fun) and is worth your time. If it truly ends up being Redford’s last role, it’s definitely a fun one to go out on. And one that continues to remind us of Redford’s ability to, quite literally, charm his way out of anything, just as he has throughout his entire career.