The Old Man & the Gun
Directed by David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
1 hour 33 mins.
Imagine Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid a century after his prime bank robbing days. He’s older and slower, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual smarts. Even in the near present as a fedora-wearing codger, he’s still outflanking the average cop.
Welcome to The Old Man & the Gun, the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) who escaped from San Quentin State Prison in 1979 and pulled off a series of heists in the Midwest that still has the cop world buzzing.
Seems a fitting end for Redford, who has announced that he’s retiring from filmmaking. Think of it as Sundance in a suit and tie, going on one last bender with that familiar grin . . . and having a whiz-bang time in the process.
Tucker is a lifelong criminal who has managed 16 escapes from all types of prisons. Now, he’s put together a gang — Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover) — who rob mostly smaller banks in towns across Texas and the lower Midwest. Low-profile stuff.
Tucker is very polite about his requests. He walks into the bank with a valise, asks for the manager and quietly absconds with the money. It all seems so natural to him. He even smiles and tells his victims to have a good day.
In a Texas diner, he meets a woman that piques his interest. Brazenly, he walks up to her and introduces himself. Her name is Jewel (Sissy Spacek). His name is, well, whatever he wants to tell her. There’s a spark between them. Now he’s a bank robber with a love interest.
Meanwhile, Dallas detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) picks up the trail of a series of puzzling bank robberies. As he begins to uncover the details, the story makes the news. Tucker enjoys the publicity and even teases Hunt with some tantalizing clues, including one very amusing face-to-face encounter in a bathroom. Hunt is hooked and the chase is on.
If you’re hoping that this film would be one last jewel in Redford’s crown, you might be disappointed. For one thing, while it provides details of Tucker’s life, you never quite get inside the man’s head. Director David Lowery seems content to just let the events speak for themselves, and since the events are repetitious, so is the film.
It also treats Tucker’s life as if he’s an accountant or a store manager. For a man who is addicted to stealing other people’s hard-earned money, the treatment is very lighthearted. Even the music speaks to an easy kind of day in which Tucker is just doing his job and hanging out with his girl on her horse ranch.
There are some funny moments. It’s not as if the film is lacking a sense of humor. Even the throw-ins, Glover and Waits, have their quips. I’m willing to bet, though, that if Waits had played Tucker, the film would have been darker and much more entertaining. Alas, the sidekicks are only in briefly.
Redford was one of my idols when I first began watching movies in the theater and his career has included some of the best in drama, comedy and direction. Consider, for instance, 2013’s All Is Lost, in which he commands the screen without saying a word.
The Old Man & the Gun is not one of his best films, but he’s a gamer and some of his sharp wit is still apparent, particularly when he’s with Spacek. It feels as if he’s pulling out his old Sundance pistol and taking his last shot, or leaning over the cliff, ready to jump again, even if he can’t swim.
So, perhaps for old time’s sake, those who appreciate his work will catch this film and bid him a fond farewell. Good to know that, just like Tucker, he went out smiling.