Film Review: Redford Shines in “The Old Man and the Gun”

Film poster: “The Old Man and the Gun”

The Old Man and the Gun (David Lowery, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars. 

Would that the delightful, slow-paced mayhem of a crime spree profiled in the first two-thirds of David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun could sustain itself. That it doesn’t is disappointing, yet the film still comes off as a mostly charming romp through the improbable deeds of its central protagonist, real-life serial criminal Forrest Tucker. Tucker apparently never saw a bank he didn’t want to rob, and stayed true to his vocation until the very end. By the time we meet him here, he is well past the age when most men retire, yet gamely soldiers on, his stylish threads and winning charisma making him the Dapper Dan of delinquents. And who better to play this likable rogue than the great Robert Redford (All Is Lost), who claims that this may, in fact, be his last movie? Or maybe he’ll take a cue from Forrest and keep on going. Whatever he decides, he is perfect in this part. Not a bad farewell.

The year is 1981, and Forrest pulls off his jobs with relative ease, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of two similarly aged buddies – Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) – the technology of the time not adequate to stop a determined and clever bunch. His main shtick involves a disarming manner, a polite quip or two, and the fact that no one sees him coming. As we later discover, he has been caught, many times (and escaped from prison almost just as often), but at this particular juncture in his career, in Dallas, he acts with apparent impunity. Not even the woman he meets on the side of the road, stopping to use her as cover from the cops chasing him, suspects his true nature. Jewel is her name, appropriately enough, and she is played by Sissy Spacek (most recently Sally Rayburn on Netflix’s Bloodline), who matches Redford in commanding presence, even with much less screen time. For this is actually more of a guys’ picture.

Sissy Spacek as “Jewel” and Robert Redford as “Forrest Tucker” in the film THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Indeed, the central conflict – more of a bromance, really – is between Forrest and Casey Affleck’s John Hunt, a police detective whose world-weary resignation that he’ll never make a difference is briefly lifted by the thrill of pursuit. Affleck (A Ghost Story, also directed by Lowery) is fine, but it’s unfortunately the very details that he uncovers, and the subsequent showdown, that turn the film from an enjoyably quirky caper into a heavy-handed morality tale. Yes, crime is bad and shouldn’t pay. I get it. But even Redford’s signature role in the 1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid allowed him room to be both guilty and tragic without overselling the sins of his past. The more we know about Forrest, the less we like him, and while this might be true to the facts, it makes for an unevenness of tone in the final act. Still, Redford is always worth watching. Here’s hoping he comes back for at least one more round.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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