ON IN CINEMAS
The Old Man & the Gun (2018) starring Robert Redford
A true crime biopic
Robert Redford (in his final role before retiring from acting) plays real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker in this biographical crime drama. The story picks up in 1981 when, at the ripe old age of 70, he perpetrated a series of widely publicised heists across America with the help of his two accomplices Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). During one of his getaways, he chances upon an elderly woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) who is standing by her broken down car at the roadside. He gives her a lift to her hometown, where they chat over coffee and he decides to reveal his profession to her. While she struggles to quite believe his chosen career path, she is utterly charmed by him and they start to fall in love.
His next job takes place at a bank where Texan police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) happens to be taking out a loan. While he doesn’t catch Tucker in the act, the manager alerts him to the incident. Hunt decides to make it his own personal crusade to catch this unusually nice and gentlemanly old crook.
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David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is, without a doubt, my favourite movie from 2017. As a follow-up, The Old Man & the Gun has some parallels in terms of both themes and feel. Again, it features a sympathetic central protagonist who is dislocated from the world around him. Here, however, it is due to his propensity for robbing banks rather than him being an unseen spirit cursed to roam the world until the end of time.
It also has a similarly slow, languid feel, often locking statically into scenes for a long time - yet doing so in a manner which is captivatingly focussed rather than dull. While there are heists and car chases here, they aren’t viscerally exciting in the manner of, say, a Mission: Impossible film. Instead, The Old Man & the Gun finds its own relaxed rhythm in terms of performances, images and soundtrack, while still generating a certain low-key suspense at times. The latter quality is most evident when Robert Redford and Casey Affleck’s characters share scenes together. The best of such moments is a classic Heat-style diner encounter between detective and felon, albeit this time with an entirely different dynamic as the felon chooses to approach the detective in order to get a feel on the progress of his investigations.
Robert Redford is the star
At the same time, The Old Man & the Gun is just as much Redford’s baby as it is Lowery’s - indeed, arguably even more so. As with Harry Dean Stanton’s final bow in Lucky, it serves very much as a final epitaph to a truly iconic American actor. The film also outlines its meta aspects by using stills of the younger Redford as police file photographs and even a little bit of footage from his earlier films in flashback montages. While nowadays, he’s looking more leathery than the average vintage sofa, he still maintains all of the effortless, twinkle-eyed charm which made him one of Hollywood’s most enduring major stars in the first place. For all of his character’s criminal tendencies, he still comes across as being a truly decent-natured man. Yes, when it comes down to it, Redford is playing another contrived “loveable rogue” part. In this case, however, he pulls it off with such audacious flair that it’s hard not to applaud him.
There’s also a clear sense of ambiguity over whether he really feels that he should continue his chosen life path. This is most evident in one scene when, during a nighttime getaway, he commandeers a car driven by a young woman. Just as he manages to evade the pursuing police, he notices a previously-unseen child sitting on the back seat and decides to drop them off, safely, at the front of an open grocery store.
The supporting cast is top-notch too, especially Sissy Spacek (who comes across as a far older but somewhat wiser reincarnation of her criminal-besotted character from Badlands), Casey Affleck (as a laconic detective who is both dedicated to pursuing Tucker and positively starstruck in admiration of the latter’s gentlemanly decency) and Danny Glover (in another “I’m too old for this shit” role where he really obviously is too old for this shit). However, it is clearly Redford who is the centre of attention here.
Admittedly, The Old Man & the Gun isn’t quite the cinematic revelation that A Ghost Story was. Whereas the previous film was a truly unique and inventive work, this one is, in many ways, an unashamedly rather corny and predicable affair - albeit in the finest and most heartfelt manner possible. However, perhaps that’s the point. As with Forrest Tucker’s high-profile run of bank robberies, Lowery’s spectacular level of success can’t be sustained indefinitely. Thus, retreating to a cosily enjoyable picture such as this one, rather than overreaching and unleashing a huge bomb (such as David Lynch’s Dune or Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales), seems like a pretty smart move.
Runtime: 93 mins
Dir: David Lowery
Script: David Lowery, based on the New Yorker article by David Grann
Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, John David Washington, Keith Carradine