The Old Man & The Gun
Real life bank heist flick gets a senior discount
The Old Man and The Gun (2018)
Directed by David Lowery
Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
Some movies have wide orbits, encompassing grand themes and epic actions. Others have a smaller orbit, revolving around less grandiose worlds. And some movies simply spin in place like a top. The Old Man & The Gun—which reportedly marks the final on-screen appearance of legendary actor Robert Redford—is decidedly in the latter category. It’s no less credible a work of cinematic art for its humble aspirations. But it’s also such a delicate, micro-sized production that it can scarcely hold up to the strain of being “The Last Film Robert Redford Will Ever Make.”
The Old Man & The Gun is written and directed by indie oddball David Lowery—whose all but incomprehensible résumé consists of the Terrence Malick-esque crime drama Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the low-key Disney remake Pete’s Dragon and the impenetrably arty supernatural whatsit A Ghost Story. Lowery’s new film is loosely based on an eye-catching New Yorker article by David Grann about a gentleman named Forrest Tucker. Not to be confused with the “F Troop” actor of the same name, Forrest Tucker was a septuagenarian thief who broke out of San Quentin prison and went on an audacious string of bank robberies, circa 1981.
Redford here plays Tucker, an unflappably charming old gent who prefers to walk into banks wearing his Sunday best, calmly flash a pistol and politely ask the teller to fill his briefcase with money. He is assisted on his cross-country spree by aged tough guy Waller (musician and occasional actor Tom Waits) and longtime getaway driver Teddy (Danny Glover). While passing through Texas, Tucker crosses paths with well-seasoned widow Jewel (Sissy Spacek). He invites her out for pie and coyly confesses to being a professional bank robber—a boast she quickly dismisses as idle joshing.
At the same time, Dallas police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck at his most perfectly disheveled) is turning 40 and ruminating about how much he hates his job. A report of a senior citizen robbing a bank briefly sparks his interest, however. A little digging and Hunt turns up a string of bank heists leading in a straight line from San Francisco to Dallas—all of them pulled by a group of elderly men, which he soon dubs “The Over The Hill Gang.”
So. Hunt applies himself to uncovering the identity of this past-his-prime criminal mastermind and Tucker continues merrily robbing banks and romancing Jewel. That’s about the long and the short of it. Although there are plenty of opportunities here for wry humor, romance, action, all that jazz, Lowery has more than proven he’s not interested in anything overtly, traditionally filmic. There are a few lightweight heists and a lot of low-key conversations in run-down diners. The film’s one shootout takes place entirely off screen. Lowery further prunes away the film’s all-too-brief story with a number of cat-and-mouse montages that feel more dismissive than cinematic. The end result is something so insubstantial and unassuming that it melts away like a meal of communion wafers and cotton candy.
Though it plays out as a genial character study, The Old Man & The Gun seems conspicuously devoid of character motivation. Hunt isn’t all that interested in catching Tucker. And Tucker doesn’t seem to care much whether he’s arrested or not. He doesn’t even spend his ill-gotten gains, piling them up in the dusty floorboards of his house. Nonetheless, the film does accrue a mild sense of purpose by the time the credits role. Why does Forest Tucker rob banks? Because that’s what he does. It’s as simple as that. He’s been doing it since puberty. And at 70, he’s not about to stop. He doesn’t need the money, really. But the smile on his face and the glint in his eye as he pulls back his jacket to show a bank clerk his gun tells you all you need to know. The point of the act is the act itself. (The real Forest Tucker didn’t go on a cross-country crime spree, but he did leave his Florida retirement community to rob four banks at age 79.)
Redford’s legendary charm and his long history of playing lovable criminals on screen (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting) are well exploited here. Redford, for his part, seems as relaxed and comfortable on screen as he’s ever been. Affleck, as Redford’s foil, has relatively little to do. Though he IDs Tucker and susses out his intriguing backstory (featuring no less than 16 prison breaks), Hunt is unconnected to the man’s eventual capture. The two cross paths only briefly on screen. More’s the pity. Everyone else in the impressive cast (which also includes Elizabeth Moss and Keith Carradine) barely counts as a cameo. This is Redford’s world, after all, and everybody else is just a bit player.
As an affable, sedentary tale of a likable old rogue—a sort of Catch Me If You Can for the AARP set—The Old Man & The Gun serves its purpose. There are flashes of wit and moments of heart and—thanks almost entirely to its star—it’s a hard film not to like. But it’s not the sort of film you can get excited about. Applaud too loudly and you might just break its hip.