The Old Man and the Gun is Robert Redford’s final film, and in every way, this affectionate biopic of a 70-year-old bank robber is a homage to the legendary actor. Forrest Tucker was a serial thief, perennial inmate, and unprecedentedly successful prison escapee. The Old Man and the Gun sees him in his final years, falling in love with fellow pensioner Jewel (a luminous Sissy Spacek), and going on a spree, with the FBI on his heels. The second lead in the movie is John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a municipal cop and family man who takes a personal interest in the felonies of this remarkable criminal.
There are no bad guys in The Old Man and the Gun. Apart from carrying a revolver he never fires, and robbing for the sheer thrill of it, Tucker is a perfect gentleman. As Hunt follows the trail, interviewing bank staff one after the other, their befuddling descriptions keep focusing on Tucker’s smile and his genial manner. Hunt himself is a soft soul. And the inevitable meeting of the two centrepieces of the film is as delightfully satisfying as you could hope (imagine De Niro and Pacino in Heat with a lot less to prove). During this encounter, Affleck, poster boy for contemporary naturalism, cracks a spontaneous grin that, for me, is the most memorable image of the film. Of course, credit goes to Redford for provoking it.
This is, naturally, Redford’s film. It’s a gentle, nostalgic tribute to the rebellious post-classical Hollywood that spawned the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Sting. Apparently, the opening title uses the Butch Cassidy font. And there’s definitely a reflective quality to it all. The camera, equipped with a grainy 16mm film, stays close to this man. Tight close ups drink in that handsome (now very wrinkled) face one last time for posterity. And without spoiling anything, there’s a montage that appropriates some classic footage in a most satisfactory way.
Director David Lowery, a budding auteur, employs a style that’s both old-fashioned and a little arthouse. But the small warning is that The Old Man and the Gun is not a thriller. It would feel misleading to call it even a heist movie. The tone and narrative are relaxed and pacifically amusing to the point where those hoping for Ocean’s 16 may find it tedious. Nor does it reach the existential ecstasy of Lowery’s last film, A Ghost Story. But for the viewer ready for a placid character study, it is buoyed up by Tucker’s uncompromising philosophy of living: be kind, find the humour in everything, and follow your heart (even if that ends in prison time). It would be interesting to know which parts of these ideologies are Sundance’s own.
The Old Man and the Gun is out in limited release now.