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Director: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
Length: 1hr 33m
My god, this man is charming. I could practice for years, and still I would never have the twinkle in the eye of Robert Redford. If reports are to be believed, then this is the final acting role of the Hollywood legend. Well-told, perfectly paced and with all the focus on its star, The Old Man and the Gun is a good way for him to bow out.
Directed by David Lowery, he of A Ghost Story, the film is the (mostly) true tale of an ageing bank robber. Forrest Tucker has been a criminal all his life. He's the type of guy who might have stolen your lunch money, not out of malice, but out of the thrill of theft. Some people never find their true calling; Forrest Tucker did, and it was robbing banks.
There was a whole life of crime for Lowery and co. to dive into in with Tucker, but they have wisely zeroed in on his later, rather gentlemanly years. Tucker makes his living travelling around the States with his two buddies (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), robbing banks in the calmest way possible. He'll take in his surroundings, approach the cashier or manager gently, flash his gun, and walk away with the money they hand to him - simple. As the police, led by a dogged Casey Affleck, follow the trail of the 'Over the Hill Gang', all any of the witnesses can say about Tucker is how polite he was, how charming he was, or just that he was smiling. It is hardly a new point to make in a film about bank robbers, but Tucker just loves the job.
Whilst not poker-faced, he is a man who keeps his real emotional cards close to his chest. We are given little to suggest why he is so desperate to keep running and robbing all his life. His emotional core is prodded, however, by Sissy Spacek as Jewel. When Jewel and Forrest meet for the first time, there is an instant glimmer of warmth and understanding between the pair. The more the two connect, the more we question Forrest's feelings and past relationships. These questions are merely touched on, not forced or mined for great emotional heft. The entire film has a lightness of touch. Lowery makes watching this story a relaxing experience, the sense of fun and good humour washing over you with enough sadness to cut through the warmth.
The Old Man and the Gun is clearly a good film. Quite how good it is may depend on your tastes. The film is a masterclass in efficient, entertaining storytelling. Coming in at 93 minutes, it's pacing is excellent, and the action never drags. Where some filmmakers might have powered through the story, Lowery simply floats. The heists are simple and low-key but utterly compelling. Yet, when it comes to real depth, The Old Man and the Gun may be lacking. Redford's performance is a superb work of subtle emotion, but the other characters are more a case of being underserved than understated. The pain and boredom of Affleck's detective, finally satisfied by the opportunity to track Tucker down, feels like a more leisurely Heat, but it packs no real punch. The female characters are given little room to grow too. Tika Sumpter, as Affleck's wife, gets virtually nothing to do, and Spacek's Jewel serves more as a means to cajole Forrest than a wholly intriguing character in her own right. Admittedly, we don't want to see a 'why does she love the criminal' thing again, but her notable indifference to Forrest's heists could have been further examined.
Perhaps Lowery's film chooses to neglect its supporting players because it is so enamoured with its lead. The advantage of the lack of depth to some characters is that our abiding memory is of Redford as Tucker. The image of this man smiling his way through bank after bank is a lovely one, but it is given a melancholic edge by Redford. There are moments that Forrest seems genuinely troubled. His sense of time catching up with him and emptiness after many years on his own are writ across Redford's face in a handful of more reflective scenes.
There is no doubt that this is Robert Redford's film. Occasionally this is to the film's detriment, but for the most part it is one of its greatest strengths. After a career filled with the likes of The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Lowery's film feels like a magnificent way to close Redford's career. Fifty years on, and the devil is still charming us.