Robert Redford stars as real life bank robber Forrest Tucker who successfully escaped from prison eighteen times from the late 1940s to the early 80s. Entitled “The Old Man & the Gun” and directed by David Lowery from a story by David Grann, the film has a breezy understated charm. Fans of Redford’s legendary work from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “The Company You Keep,” will have many reasons to chuckle in satisfaction.
Tucker robs banks like some people play tennis. He carries a gun but does not use it and he is invariably polite and self-deprecating. He has an offhand almost reluctant way of taking money and he always has a smile for the teller, be they male or female. If there ever was a Zen robber, Tucker would be it.
After one such heist, he spies a woman trying to start a truck and decides to lend a hand, or at least go through the motions. All the better to throw the police off his trail. The woman, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), is immediately taken by the man’s gentle ease. At a diner, Tucker tells her that he robs banks but Jewel doesn’t believe him. She’s smitten and it is easy to see why.
Even the bank managers and tellers are flabbergasted. Some of them give the authorities a shrug of the shoulders as if to say, why bother, after all he was such a nice man. Montages are interspersed showing Tucker robbing as routinely as most do the laundry or take out the trash. We see young Redford in various photographs and this is a treat for the audience because the actor has such an iconic cinema history.
Tucker is aided by two accomplices: Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover). Waits, ever the reliable eccentric, has yet another solid if not surprising turn as a deadpan small time crook, who hates his militaristic dad and Christmas. His dialogue has the same quirky and singed quality as his famous song lyrics.
Our easeful anti-hero is pursued by the lethargic Detective Hunt (Casey Affleck) whose marriage to the lively Maureen (Tika Sumpter) even feels rote. Hunt sleepily admires Tucker and aficionados will notice the beloved “nose touch” from “The Sting” as an inside joke in tribute to the two actors.
While the action stays put in a middle register and the romance between Spacek and Redford feels tepid, they share a laugh and Sissy Spacek (a legend in her own right ) retains a witchy spark in her eye.
This is supposedly Redford’s last on-screen role and although he seems to employ all his mild hijinks with a smirk and a light touch, his face has allure and power. Part of the fun is in seeing his light heartedness and guessing just how far he’ll let go: perhaps he’ll grab Spacek in a mad dash for the hills, perhaps he’ll fire his gun at a cop and yelp at the moon. The mystery is in our desire.
In showing old photographs of the robber in his heyday (with arguably one of the most famous male faces in American cinema) Redford / Tucker’s response is gleefully tongue in cheek as if to say, am I old or am I young? I don’t care. Catch me if you can! In the director’s juxtaposition of photographs, at times it is difficult to discern whether we are looking at young Tucker or the older one as if to make a parallel to the films “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Catch Me If You Can”. The effect is poignant.
“The Old Man & the Gun” is as much about our love for Robert Redford as it is about Forrest Tucker and both of them bring forth cheer for what is recognizable, benevolent and devil-may-care.
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