FILM REVIEW – THE OLD MAN & THE GUN. With Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits. Written and directed by David Lowery. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. 93 minutes.
While peers like Gene Hackman and Sean Connery may have quietly hung it up after a couple of unmemorable duds (“Welcome to Mooseport” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” respectively) the recently retired Robert Redford’s final film is a more carefully considered and well-publicized affair. This makes sense, as Robert Redford thinks a lot about being Robert Redford. The 82-year-old icon has so carefully managed a career spanning more than five decades, it’s easy to see why he chose to go out with THE OLD MAN & THE GUN, a gentle caper comedy full of wistful, wrinkly smiles and a sweetly elegiac tone.
Based on what we’re told is a mostly true story, the film stars Redford as Forrest Tucker, who led a crew of senior citizen bank robbers on a spree across the Southwest back in the late 1970s and early 80s. Writer-director David Lowery winningly utilized the screen legend’s avuncular appeal in his terrific 2016 “Pete’s Dragon” remake, and here skips over any unpleasant particulars of Tucker’s real-life story in favor of a genial, slightly exaggerated folk tale.
Shot on richly textured 16mm film stock with old-timey title cards, “The Old Man & the Gun” is like a lot of Lowery’s films in that it feels like it was made forty years ago. Redford plays the world’s most polite armed robber, charming the tellers and flashing his pistol but never pointing it in their faces. Clad in a dapper blue suit with a hearing aid dangling from his ear (it’s actually a police scanner) he’s the last person you’d ever expect to be knocking over a bank — which is exactly how he keeps getting away with it.
Casey Affleck co-stars as a depressed Dallas detective humiliated when Tucker robs an establishment where he’s waiting in line. Seething with resentment, he begins tracking this crew he’s dubbed “The Over-The-Hill Gang” like a hangdog Javert. Putting these two at odds is an inspired pairing, with Affleck’s rumpled deadpan and miserable mustache consistently outshone by Redford’s mega-watt charisma. The younger actor seems to have prematurely Matthau-ed, displaying withered grimaces that are comedy gold.
Between heists, Tucker hangs with Sissy Spacek’s unassuming rancher. She can tell there’s something fishy about this guy, but he’s awfully fun to be around and it is a pleasure for us to bask in the chemistry of these two adorable old pros. The easygoing vibe also applies to Redford’s fellow felons, played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits, settling into their roles like comfy easy-chairs. There’s not exactly a lot of urgency in “The Old Man & the Gun,” which for a manhunt picture is paced more like an afternoon stroll. That’s part of the appeal.
I suppose a tougher movie could have gotten into the gulf between Tucker’s folksy demeanor and a life wasted on the run or in prisons, but besides a brief cameo by Elisabeth Moss as his estranged daughter, the picture doesn’t really seem to want to go there. A better actor than he’s often given credit for being, Redford in his finest films has dug into disenchanting undercurrents beneath the golden boy persona. (His near-silent performance in 2013’s “All is Lost” was a marvel of physicality and regret.) “The Old Man & the Gun” is content to stay on the surface while offering warmly valedictory flourishes, going to far as to incorporate footage of the young star in 1966’s “The Chase” and allowing Affleck to borrow that snubbed-nose salute from “The Sting.”
It’s a fond farewell to a legend who has earned himself this kind of affable victory lap, and I’ll take it over “Welcome to Mooseport” any day.•••
Over the past nineteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.