'The Old Man & the Gun' Review
November 1, 2018
Robert Redford has built a successful decade-spanning career as a charming actor who can play any type of character with a heart of gold. It seems fitting that in his final performance in the new film The Old Man & the Gun, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a man who was born to rob banks. Except he’s not your typical bank robber, he’s the most polite and happy criminal around. Now at the age of seventy-four, Tucker becomes nationally famous and must continue his passion while eluding the pursuit of detective John Hunt, who becomes enraptured by the legend of one man living his dream despite the consequences it may bring.
Director David Lowery isn’t a household name, but the thirty-eight-year-old has made some quality films such as his 2017 indie hit A Ghost Story and Pete’s Dragon in 2016 (also starring Redford). Lowery goes for the sweet and simple approach when it comes to directing this film. He keeps the feel of the film feeling like a cool, light breeze and keeps the main plot centered on detail at a time.
He also nails the look and feel of the film to fit the 80s setting. The film doesn’t just feel like it's set in the 80s, it's like it was made during that time period. He uses very grainy film stock to shoot the movie, giving it a very nostalgic feel. There is also an abundance of old classic songs of that era that perfectly fit the tone. The simple approach Lowery uses also has its minor drawbacks. The overall story of the film felt a little shallow and could have used more buildup and stakes in order to build suspense. There could have also been more interaction between characters in order to develop relationships as some don’t feel as genuine as they should have.
Lowery also adapts the screenplay from a real-life biographical article written about Forrest Tucker in The New Yorker by David Grann. Lowery matches his writing with his approach to directing. The script is filled with tender moments that work wonders with the actors involved. The diner scenes between Redford and Sissy Spacek are the best as they simply just enjoy each other and talk about life in old age. With only a little bit of effort and some magic, the two actors and the dialogue they share are able to keep us engaged throughout.
Below the surface, however, is where Lowery’s script suffers from the same problems as his directing. The overall story told feels too simple to satisfyingly fit a feature-length film. More background and supporting details could have been used to tell the story with more depth. Many important events happen with little to no explanation, which proves very distracting by the end as they cut down on the overall believability.
Redford essentially plays a culmination of every part he’s previously played in his fifty-plus-year career. He works magic with his confidence and overall physical presence in each scene. It’s a testament to his skill that you never actually see the gun he uses during the robberies, rather his charisma and charm are the only weapons he needs. Even with all his misdoings, you end up rooting for him by the end of the film.
Partnering up with Redford in a supporting role is Sissy Spacek as Jewel, a widow whom Forrest takes an interest in. Jewel finds herself romantically caught up with Tucker and just can’t seem to shake him off despite knowing what he does for a living. Spacek and Redford have excellent chemistry together and keep us thoroughly entertained in even the most mundane of scenes.
Every criminal needs a cop to be his nemesis, and filling that role is Casey Affleck as John Hunt. Affleck provides a counterbalance to Redford’s glee as his character glumly deals with the thought of getting older in a static career. Affleck middlingly works throughout but never matches Redford’s ability to make us care about his character.
The Old Man & the Gun is similar to that of a Sunday drive out into the country. It doesn’t really know where it’s going from time to time, but it doesn’t really matter because the ride itself is more enjoyable than the final destination. In his farewell performance, Redford shows us that he can win over any crowd and rides out into the sunset and leaves us with his legend and unforgettable skill as an actor.