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.
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.