Film review: The Old Man and The Gun

Pauline McLeod / 07 December 2018

Is this Robert Redford’s swansong, or does he have a get-out-of-jail free card tucked up his sleeve?

Forget the gritty terrain of urban hard-core bank heists and masked men with sawn-off shot guns. Picture instead the rolling landscape of the Texan countryside and an elderly gentleman, so likeable and charming as he doffs his fedora, tellers readily hand over the money as he goes about his notorious, almost legendary, robbery sprees.

The twinkly-eyed dude with a smile that could disarm the military is in fact the legend that is Robert Redford.

Or rather, this screen idol who long ago surpassed mere actor status, portrays Forrest Tucker, an American career criminal who escaped from prison 18 times, spent his life in and out of the slammer and was looking forward to just one more last job (maybe) in the rather wonderful The Old Man & The Gun.

And why this breezy crime caper, explored with great deft by masterly writer and director David Lowery, is particularly special is because it’s Redford’s swansong. Probably. Now 82 and after six memorable decades, he’s decided enough-is-enough. Still, as he also added, “Never say never”, at least he has his get-out-of-jail-free card up his sleeve.

Adapted from The Old Man & The Gun, David Grann’s 2003 riveting profile of Tucker in The NewYorker, Lowery openly plays fast and loose with the facts, deliberately discarding some of the nastier elements of Tucker’s lawless life. And all the better for it, to anchor Redford’s charisma.

If Lowery had chosen to stick rigidly to the truth Tucker, magnetic charmer though he was, would have been decidedly different, as would the film. Still, if you look, not even too closely, you might notice parallels between crook and icon: both uncompromising risk-takers, a lifelong adventurous spirit coupled with the thrill of the unknown and both lives lived completely on their own terms. 

In fact, it was the geniality of Tucker that drew Redford to him, rather than his felonies, plus that shared ability to tap into a lifelong passion no matter their age.

Set in pre-smart-phones, pre-Internet early Eighties when Tucker was a septuagenarian and slowing down a fraction - he once robbed four banks in one day – the movie rolls at a leisurely pace; the rhythm pure unhurried pleasure. A love letter to Mr Redford, you’ll be smiling at the occasional nuances, clips and nods to his films of yore slipped in.   

As head honcho of the Over-the-Hill gang, Tucker takes his ‘business’ meetings with fellow old lags Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits with alarming bouffant silver hair and hardly a help in identity line-ups) as seriously as you might expect - in the local diner which is where Forrest also woos Jewel, a delightful widow played by Sissy Spacek who is on glorious career-best form.

Forrest courts Jewel in the true old-fashioned sense of the word and to watch the chemistry as these two actors connect with such effortless ease is pure cinema magic.

Add to the mix, the great Casey Affleck who portrays Detective John Hunt, the cop who was on the tail of Tucker for years and ended up with such a sneaking admiration for the old rascal, he didn’t want to catch him and you have a complete joy of a film.

I hope Mr Redford keeps that card to hand!

The OldMan & The Gun opens nationwide on Friday December 7, rated 12A.

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