The Old Man & the Gun is a pleasantly breezy cops and (aging) robbers tale anchored by Redford's charismatic performance - be it his last one or not.
The third movie in as many years from writer/director David Lowery, The Old Man & the Gun has been partly overshadowed by star Robert Redford's announcement that this will be his final film before he retires from acting - a decree the Hollywood icon has since (sorta) backtracked on. Regardless, The Old Man & the Gun is an intriguing project on its own terms and brings the story of real-life career crook and conman Forrest Tucker to life as a lightweight historical crime caper. The resulting movie likewise makes for yet another memorable addition to Lowery's increasingly eclectic body of work as a director. The Old Man & the Gun is a pleasantly breezy cops and (aging) robbers tale anchored by Redford's charismatic performance - be it his last one or not.
The Old Man & the Gun picks up in Texas circa 1981, as Forrest (Redford) - now well into his seventies - executes a bank robbery with the assistance of his fellow senior citizen criminals Teddy (Danny Glover) and Walter (Tom Waits). Having successfully evaded the police, Forrest thereafter stops to help an older woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), after spotting her stranded on the highway by truck problems. The pair are quick to spark a flirtatious connection and continue their courtship over the months that follow, even though Jewel doesn't believe Forrest (who claims his name is Bob Callahan) when he tells her upfront what he does for a living.
Along the way, Forrest crosses paths with John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a 40-year old Texan detective who begins to pursue the law-breaking septuagenarian after Forrest robs a bank right under John's nose (somewhat literally). As John discovers that this crime was but the latest in a string of robberies committed across multiple states by the same man - an aging fellow whom most everyone describes as being gentlemanly and good-natured - he finds his own passion for being a cop has been reinvigorated. Before long, John and his team find themselves closing in on Forrest and his so-called "Over the Hill Gang"... even as John begins to wonder if he really wants to catch Forrest at all.
Adapted from David Grann's 2003 article "The Old Man and the Gun" for The New Yorker, Lowery's script openly plays fast and loose with the facts of the real Forrest Tucker's life (something the film's opening title card clarifies), in order to tell a story that works as both cheery crime romp and an enlightening memoir about Forrest's exploits as not only a bank robber, but a legend in the art of escaping prison. At the same time, The Old Man & the Gun resembles Lowery's last two films (the Pete's Dragon remake and A Ghost Story), in the way that it blends whimsical scenes with more contemplative sequences that reflect on the very nature of human existence and what ultimately drives people to live their lives the way they do. The Old Man & the Gun lacks the poignancy of Lowery's most recent movies, but helps to make up for that by staying light on its feet throughout its brisk runtime.
While The Old Man & the Gun has the feel of a modern indie film, it looks like the sort of old-fashioned caper that might have been released in theaters back in the late 1970s or early '80s. Lowery and his director of photography Joe Anderson (Don't Think Twice) successfully maintain this illusion through their use of not only beautifully grainy 16mm film stock, but also the types of camera movement (swish pans, moving zoom shots) that were more popular around the time of the movie's events. The handsome period costumes from Annell Brodeur and genially laid-back jazzy score by Daniel Hart (both of whom have collaborated with Lowery before) further suggest that The Old Man & the Gun could pass for being an authentic piece of older Americana cinema (in a good way, mind), if someone didn't know better.
Redford, who also collaborated with Lowery on Pete's Dragon, similarly imbues The Old Man & the Gun with the same dose of quiet charm, swagger and depth of character that made him a big screen legend in the first place. While the film is foremost a showcase for Redford's acting, Spacek and Affleck nevertheless deliver thoughtful performances here as two people who find themselves at crossroads (albeit, very different crossroads) in their lives, upon meeting Forrest. At the same time, however, The Old Man & the Gun falls a bit short when it comes to fleshing out the personalities of its supporting players, including the other two members of Forrest's team and John's wife, Maureen (Tika Sumpter). Even so, the latter does share a few touching moments with Affleck as Joe, as do real-life sister and brother Ari Elizabeth and Teagan Johnson as the pair's children, Abilene and Tyler.
In general, The Old Man & the Gun is loaded with lauded actors in minor roles (see: Isiah Whitlock Jr., Elizabeth Moss, Keith Carradine and BlacKkKlansman's John David Washington) and interesting factoids about Forrest's experiences, but only does so much with all that great talent and fascinating subject matter. On the one hand, that's good and allows the film to thrive as frothy, upbeat and otherwise pure cinematic entertainment, with just enough substance to be memorable. On the other hand, that also means The Old Man & the Gun avoids really examining the questions it raises about Forrest's love for what he does and short-changes certain characters when it comes to their arcs and/or roles in the story.
Still, the way The Old Man & the Gun is more interested in having a fun time than delivering some grand statement about Forrest's life (and thus, on a meta level, Redford's legacy) arguably makes it the perfect vehicle for its star to go out on, if indeed he chooses to do so. Likewise, Lowery's film should make for a refreshing alternative to the more emotionally heavy and otherwise downbeat awards season contenders that it'll be screening alongside in arthouse theaters over the coming weeks. In other words: whether you're a fan of Lowery's previous films and/or want to watch The Sundance Kid (maybe) ride off into the sunset, you should go ahead and join Forrest as he chases his next big thrill, doing what he does best.
The Old Man & the Gun is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 93 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
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- The Old Man and the Gun (2018) release date: Sep 28, 2018