In the build-up to the release of The Old Man & The Gun, Robert Redford announced this will be his final acting performance. Almost 50 years on from his most famous role, our very own Sundance Kid is still robbing banks with effortless charm.
As Redford puts his career to rest, his character, Forrest Tucker, can do nothing of the sort, committing crimes well into his seventies for the sheer hell of it. A career criminal who has reportedly escaped prison 16 times, Tucker’s age is merely a number when it comes to his occupation.
It’s only when he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow crying out for some interaction, that he begins to see a way out in the future. The pair meet whenever Tucker returns to the area, a base at which he can reconvene following a slew of robberies. These are committed with his trusted associates, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), with Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) being tasked with bringing the group, known as the “Over The Hill Gang” due to their old age, to justice.
Though Tucker has the police force on his tail, there’s very little threat in this gentle film, as it slowly strolls through several years without even a hint of retribution. Rather than assess the morality of Tucker’s crimes, director David Lowery, best known for A Ghost Story, prefers to showcase Redford’s uncanny knack for creating charming characters; notably, after each robbery, the victims note how Tucker was “smiling”, and how much of a gentleman he was.
This meandering pace works brilliantly when Redford and Spacek are on screen together; bathed in a lovely autumnal light, their conversations touch on regrets, what the future holds for them, whilst exploring the conflict between settling down and staying active. For Tucker and Jewel, they see each other as a way out of their current state, but they are equally torn by their drive to do what they love, even if their time is coming up. That Lowery manages to convey these lofty themes, all whilst keeping the tone light and breezy, is a testament to his versality as a director and screenwriter, with his diverse filmography (from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints to Pete’s Dragon) proving how hard he is to pin down as a filmmaker.
The same applies when we see Tucker interacting with his fellow robbers; Waits in particular is a real pleasure to watch, his gruff demeanour being a nice contrast to Redford’s easy-going swagger, with one festive story encapsulating the lovely tone of the film. Where the action stumbles a little is when Affleck’s character is on screen; though the interactions with his family are lovingly tender, the detective work seems a little unnecessary given how Tucker is ultimately excused by the audience for his behaviour. Though there’s a nice dichotomy between Tucker’s youthful effervescence and Hunt’s worn-down, rugged nature, the film is at its best when it separates the pair and lets them live without a thought to the other party.
Ultimately though, the film serves as a fond farewell to Redford, and it reflects upon his work as much as it does celebrate it. Towards the end, there’s a really clever narrative device that intertwines Redford’s own career with Tucker’s; such a tactic, along with the rest of the film, could easily come across as mawkish, but Lowery manages to balance sentimentality with genuine warmth. The Old Man & The Gun might not be drastically innovative, but it is the perfect swan song for a legend of the screen, a testament to Redford’s natural ability to charm audiences and make them smile.