A film review by Craig J. Koban November 20, 2018

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN jjj
   

2018, R, 93 mins.

 

Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker  /  Casey Affleck as John Hunt  /  Sissy Spacek as Jewel  /  Tika Sumpter as Maureen Hunt  /  Danny Glover as Teddy  /  Tom Waits as Waller

Written and directed by David Lowery  /  Based on an article by David Grann

 

 

 

I remember the very first time I saw Robert Redford in a film.  

There was a mischievous look in his eyes that was accompanied by a disarming smile.  He gave the impression that he was winking at the camera and, in turn, audience without actually doing so.  I sat back and fully realized what star power meant in this instance, and throughout my life watching Redford's movies I'm constantly reminded of his presence as a screen performer.  I've heard many over the decades that have complained that Redford has limited range as an actor, which I think is unfair.  The way he effortlessly carried scenes with his carefree charm and laid back exuberance to became the focal point of just about any he inhabited - both in great and forgettable films - takes talent.  

You can't fake charisma like that.  

This brings me to THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN, which is a new fact based period crime film that has an understated confidence of approach and overall tone that is a pitch perfect marriage to Redford's mannerisms as an actor.  The premise - which takes inspiration from a true story about an elderly bank robber in the twilight of his life that just can't seem to stop...well...robbing banks - seems tailor made for Redford at this stage in his career.  The character presented here is the quintessential Redfordian mould - a soft spoken and quietly mischievous gentleman rogue - and all while watching THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN I couldn't help but shake the fact that only an wily veteran like Redford could make such a simple and unassuming film like this simmer with so much genuine intrigue.  That, and this film has been apparently revealed to be his last as an actor before a much needed retirement from the profession.  I couldn't think of a better possible role or film for the Sundance Kid to pick as his glorious swan song.  THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN is not only one of his better films in years, but it's also a love ballad to his highly esteemed career and limitless stature as a living big screen legend. 

 

 

That, and the film represents yet another unqualified creative triumph for writer/director David Lowery, who previously won me over big time with his brilliant 2017 supernatural drama A GHOST STORY.  THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN could not possibly be any more different that his last effort, which helps cement Lowery as a poised and skilled filmmaker unafraid of any genre challenge.  His latest, as mentioned, bases itself on the real life story American career criminal Forrest Tucker, who first went to prison at age 15 and then spent the rest of his life escaping jail, then being thrown back in...only then to find a way out to perpetrate more crimes.  He was said to have escaped 18 prisons and by the time he was nearly 80-years-old and was settling down with his third wife for retirement in Florida...he went on to rob another four banks.  THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN plays fast and loose with the established facts of Tucker's life, but still manages to capture the intrinsically fascinating human interest element contained within, and Lowery paints the film with modest and inviting strokes, which is paired fluidly with Redford's equally unpretentious acting style. 

The 81-year-old Redford plays the 74-year-old Tucker with maximum swagger and magnanimity, and as the film opens in 1981 we bare witness to the two things that really makes this man happy: Escaping custody and robbing banks.  He's not a vile crook, nor a violent or hot tempered one.  He just...likes robbing banks.  It puts a smile on his face.  Pure and simple.  Two years earlier Tucker managed to escape the heavily secured San Quinton and in the subsequent years has paired up with his partners in Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) as they plot the robbery of multiple small scale banks throughout Texas...and they do so with minimal fuss and without resorting to aggressively pointing guns in anyone's faces.  This "Over The Hill Gang" begins to gain some attention from local law enforcement, like detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who begins the make it his mission to bring these geezer crooks down.  While Tucker evades capture and plans more heists he gets smitten with a local widowed ranch owner, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who in turn starts falling for the rascally Tucker...even while suspecting that something's not right about this man. 

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN is so infectiously watchable mostly because of the sheer narrative economy on display here by Lowery.  The film is based on a New Yorker Article about Tucker's life by David Grann, which cast light on the sheer ludicrousness of a retirement aged criminal stealing thousands from banks using not much else more than his calm demeanor and folksy appeal.  Basically, Tucker was just a smooth talking senior citizen that just had a way of making panic stricken people feel comfortable while he was robbing them.  The underlining story arc of Tucker's mutual attraction to thievery and later Jewel makes for a compelling one-two punch in THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN.  Tucker is clearly taken in with this woman and realizes that she could be a catalyst for him leaving a life of crime forever.  However, the insatiable allure of robbing banks is simply too hard to ignore.  In his mind, the thrill of the hunt and pleasures of success on his crime sprees is what really keeps him alive.   

Lowery makes THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN feel suitably small scale and appealingly insular, but that's not to say that it isn't a stylistic powerhouse.  There are many films that try to capture their respective time periods, but very few that I've seen recently have literally felt like they could have been shot during their period.  Lowery crafts a lovingly gritty and aesthetically lived in film that evokes its early Regan era settings while giving scenes such a gnarly filmic texture, which is in large part thanks to his partnership with cinematographer Joe Anderson, who frames shots with the eye of someone from a bygone era.  It's also highly fitting that Redford's last film has the visual appearance of something that could have come out in his past cinematic glory years of the mid to late 70s.  There's an ethereal timeless quality to THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN; it's an ultra rare modern film that is about the past that looks like it were filmed in the past.  In a relative day and age when so many contemporary films utilize the pristine and sometimes flavorless crispness of digital cameras and CGI fakery, THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN is refreshingly old school in approach and tone. 

Perhaps the best tool in Lowery's arsenal is Redford himself, who has an absolutely joyous field day bringing Tucker to life with remarkably easygoing efficiency.  Yes, you can easily make the claim that role has been tailored made for the age appropriate Redford, but very few other actors could have given his part and film around him as much flavor and nuance as he does here.  There are, of course, rather pointed echoes in the film to past and iconic Redford roles where he played mischievous rebels with a pure heart, but fan servicing nostalgia - as it far too often does - never overwhelms THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN to the point of not allowing for it to be its own thing.  Redford's trademark mellow friskiness is here in enjoyable abundance, but like the movie star he is there's isn't a solitary moment in the film that he doesn't authoritatively command.  He's also paired magnificently with Spacek, another old industry pro, and the individual moments they occupy together are small little character building masterpieces of execution.  They not only have palpable chemistry together, but Redford and Spacek make their union feel authentically melancholic.  They seem destined to be together, even though fate will unavoidably step in and break them apart. 

Lowery doesn't simply let Redford and Spacek overwhelm the picture, though, and he gives a democratic amount of the film's already light and breezy 90-plus-minute running time to other side characters, like Affleck's grizzled and determined cop, who's fleshed out family life is given more layers than other lesser films would have provided.  This cop also has an enthralling - if not entirely credible - fascination with Tucker himself, which is manifested in one of the film's best acted scenes when he comes face-to-face with Tucker in a local restaurant washroom and seems almost frozen by inaction by the crook's intoxicating appeal (having said that, why he doesn't just arrest him on the spot is also one of the film's more questionable logical gaffes).  In some ways, Affleck's cop finds his prey so intriguing because he's not just another amoral hoodlum that ruins people's lives with his crimes.  Tucker just seems so decent minded and considerate and appears driven to rob not because of financial gain, but rather because it makes him feel alive and young again with death knocking on his door.   

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN is one of 2018's most sublimely pleasurable films as a diamond-in-the-rough effort that also gloriously pays homage to the greatness of its main star.  Redford obviously has been trying to find just the right film and respective role to elegantly call his last, and THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN serves as a flawless fade out for the iconic Oscar winner.  The DNA of Redford's past work is littered all throughout Lowery's film, which is what makes watching it so captivating and fulfilling: I was so thoroughly taken in with this story and  Redford's character because it subconsciously made me think of his finest films over the last several decades, and with happy reverence.  Redford is still - and will remain as he exits into retirement after this movie - an impossibly handsome and captivating movie star on screen.  

You can't fake what he has. 

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