With a wink to the audience and a familiar declaration, The Old Man & the Gun opens with a quote stating “this story is also mostly true”, which – for cinephiles – is a reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That film opened with “Not that it matters. but most of what follows is mostly true”, and using the exact same title font, this film introduces Redford in his final acting role, and bids him a fond farewell in glorious style.
Based on the exploits of career criminal Forrest Tucker, the film chronicles his later years of robbing banks, following a life of recurrent incarceration from the age of 13. With 18 successful prison escapes, Tucker spent his life either on the run, either in hiding or bating the police, and as The Old Man & the Gun would have you believe (or not), he did it purely for the love of it. While there is no doubt that his story has been embellished for the sake of entertainment, the film prides itself on glorifying Tucker’s story and makes no reservations about the fact. It is based on an article published in The New Yorker, and in adapting the story for the screen writer/director David Lowry has reunited with Redford (following Pete’s Dragon) and used Butch Cassidy as a fundamental point of reference, delivering what is almost a companion piece.
With a rough and unpolished cinematography, as well as a deliberately heavy-handed use of close-ups and wide-shots, the film feels precisely as it should… as though lifted out of the late ’70s or early ’80s. Its production and costume designs are effective and successfully capture the era better than so many to have come before it, and the story moves at a cracking pace, contrary to what the trailer might lead us to believe. Criss-crossing between Tucker’s escapades and the police procedural side of the story, we are taken on a ride that some might describe as geriatric Soderbergh meets geriatric Tarantino – a crass analogy, I know, but The Old Man & the Gun certainly does play out like the type of film you can imagine them making in their twilight years.
Redford is outstanding as the ever-charismatic Forrest Tucker, and the energy he emits is palpable. It is a beautiful swansong and I can think of no better note for him to go out on. In this stretching of truth, he graces the screen with a perpetual smile on his face and an unrelenting sense of adventure. He embodies a “live in the now” and “do what you love” attitude that transcends the screen, leaving the audience with no option but to empathise. With plenty of nods and cheeky references to his past work (including actual footage from The Chase to depict a past prison escape) the film also acts as a metaphorical memoir, giving you one final performance that ““ perhaps ““ encapsulates so many of his performances throughout the years.
The supporting cast is perfectly nuanced and earnestly elected, a high calibre of talent riding alongside Redford to the finish line. Sissy Spacek is lovely as Tucker’s adorably timid love interest, Jewel. She counters Redford’s confidence with a bashfulness, which helps to define some lovely moments between the two. Her performance, too, is something of a nostalgia piece, with her personality and shy demeanour being reminiscent of her role in Carrie – so much so, that Lowry even casts a deep red light upon her face at one point to recall one of her career’s most iconic moments.
Danny Glover and Tom Waits play Tucker’s ageing partners in crime, and both of them are welcome faces to the screen. Now in his 70s, it is amusing to watch Glover robbing banks with the burden of age barking at his heels. I couldn’t help but think of his most famous role in Lethal Weapon, when he was “too old for this shit”.Â Three decades have passed and yet here he is, still kicking ass. Waits is always a delight in whatever capacity he presents. Whether he’s clanking away on stage as a world-renowned singer-songwriter, or popping up in some of the most obscure of films, Waits’ persona is unique and complimentary to any form of art that sits outside of the box.
And, of course, the most impressive support comes from Casey Affleck (re-uniting with Lowry for the third time following A Ghost Story and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), who stars as the cop determined to bring Tucker down. His character could have easily adhered to the tropes of 80’s style crime movies, but Lowry wrote him with candour and levity. His character presents us a devoted husband and loving father, and the audience is given time to understand his side of the story. What transpires is an equal measure of sympathy from the audience for both characters, the cop and the robber. At no point in the story are we vying for one to win over the other, and this is what makes the narrative trajectory so interesting. One of the film’s highlights is the one and only moment they share on screen together. It is a brilliantly written and perfectly acted confrontation that gives the film its “moment”, and should The Old Man & the Gun vie for any awards, this should be the scene they precede the nomination with.
With a career spanning almost six-decades, there is no denying Robert Redford’s impact on cinema. From actor and director, to producer and festival helmer, he has given us a lifetime of dedicated work. The later years of his career have been somewhat reflective, with films like A Walk in the Woods and Our Souls at Night working as contemplations of age, and now his career comes to a close with The Old Man & the Gun, an appropriate and light-hearted ode to a life’s work. It is suitably understated and appropriately unassuming, and lets him bow out with the same amount of charisma and energy that made him a star to begin with.