The Old Man and the Gun
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Robert Redford is an icon of American cinema. Just the sight of his face is enough to inspire all sorts of nostalgia from long-time filmgoers. His newest, and possibly last, movie uses his appeal and memories of his past roles to create a likable, fun, character study of a man determined to live the life he enjoys. The Old Man and the Gun (loosely based on a true story) is about a bank robber who does it not because he needs the money, but because he likes it. Redford, who famously played a bank robber nearly fifty years ago in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is perfect for the role. Director David Lowery builds around him, producing a surprisingly pleasurable viewing experience.
The plot follows Redford’s veteran criminal as he goes on heists with his partners and romances a widow while being chased by a mildly bemused, yet quite dogged, detective. It is a simple, uncomplicated, story about age, loss and finding a reason for living. It mines those things just enough for their substance, however its real subject is Robert Redford himself. There is no way The Old Man and the Gun would have been able to contain as much poignancy as it does without a star with his history. A lot of what makes his character so interesting is enhanced significantly by what we know about the career of the person portraying him.
While the movie is pretty dependent on its lead actor, this is far from a one man show. Sissy Spacek grounds things as Jewel, the widowed ranch owner the protagonist meets. She brings discussions of mortality into the story. Casey Affleck, as the detective on his trail, is thoughtful and charming. This is not a hardened cop hunting a sneaky bad guy. It is two men doing the only thing that gets them out of bed every morning. As Redford’s partners in crime, Danny Glover and Tom Waits have limited screen time, but the way the three men interact with each other tells you a lot about them. Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves, which helps keep the tone amused, if bittersweet.
The Old Man and the Gun (96 minutes without the end credits) has been written and directed by David Lowery, who previously directed Affleck in the quiet western Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and the meditative drama A Ghost Story. Those two are very different in terms of pace and tone than this one. While there are a couple of similarities in theme, the bigger commonality is in how he shoots faces. In all three of these films, his camera spends a lot of time looking at the actors in close-ups. He is interested not only in the who or the what, but also the why. He tries to bring that out using an intimacy with the character and their performer. In this case, it is effective because of audience familiarity with Redford. As we are watching the character, we are also watching him. It works as both a shorthand making extra backstory unnecessary and as a way to understand these people on a deeper level.
The Old Man and the Gun is not an action movie or a comedy. It is about a bank robber, though it does not linger on his robberies. It is a light, amiable drama, with some funny moments. It uses a few heavy themes, not necessarily for dramatic purposes, but to make its characters more human and relatable than they may have appeared on paper. In addition to being a good movie, it is also flat out fun to watch. Robert Redford has said this is his final acting role. If that is true, he picked a good one to go out on.
3¾ out of 5
Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker
Casey Affleck as John Hunt
Sissy Spacek as Jewel
Tika Sumpter as Maureen
Danny Glover as Teddy
Tom Waits as Waller
Written and Directed by David Lowery