Robert Redford proves that he’s still got it as he gets back in the acting saddle as Forrest Tucker, an elderly gentleman bank robber in “The Old Man & the Gun” which is based on a true story. Planning heists and completing them in the most polite and charming way with his “Over the Hill Gang” comprised of Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), Tucker’s got a twinkle in his eye for both bank robbery and his new acquaintance, Jewel (Sissy Spacek).
The cat and mouse game begins when Officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on the case as both he and the audience are endeared with this “bad guy.” The robberies continue, leaving behind a string of happy “victims” who had no ill-will toward the gentleman who held a gun to them and demanded their money. This flummoxes officials and in some ways seems to entertain not just viewers hearing of these reports, but also Officer Hunt. Meanwhile, Tucker, going by a pseudonym of Bob Callahan, begins to court the farm owner Jewel. The scenes involving these two brilliantly talented actors are, you might say, the crowning jewel of the film. They light up in each other’s presense and transfer that feeling to the viewer.
Officer Hunt, equally charmed by Tucker and his gang, must somehow put a stop to these robberies and he institutes a different tactic in solving the mystery. He’s a father to two curious children who “help” in piecing together the puzzle. The relationship between Hunt and little Abilene (Ari Elizabeth Johnson) is an authentic feeling father-daughter relationship, endearing us to the very person who is after our charming outlaw! Creating a scenario where you’re rooting for both the good guy and the bad guy is a precariously fun position to find yourself as you watch the story unfold.
As the gang gets bored with the small heists, a larger one is planned, but the consequences may be a bitter pill to swallow at their age. The intensity builds in just the right ways and in just the right amount, and always finding a way to put a smile on your face.
As Hunt uses his detective skills, we are privy to Tucker’s back story, taking us back in time as we learn more and love him even more. To describe a bank robbery movie as sweet and charming seems an impossibility, but writer/director David Lowery along with his exceptional cast, creates exactly that. It’s a leisurely trip filled with lovely self-reflective images and scenery, never rushing you through the emotions of any of the characters.
Redford is exceptional as this gentleman bank robber whose very DNA seems to be programmed for heists. His engaging smile washes over its recipients who are then spellbound, creating an immediate attraction to him. Who other than Redford could possess these attributes to give us such a layered, rich and most importantly, believable performance. When you pair Redford with the equally delightful and talented Spacek, you have a match made in heaven. There’s a sparkle in both actors’ eyes that draws you immediately to them, wanting to spend more time with them and glean their life’s knowledge.
Affleck parallels Spacek and Redford’s performance, finding a calm beauty in his role as not just a police officer, but as a husband and father. Of course, Glover and Waits add to the film just like icing on a cake and the children are the sprinkles, as they give realistically wonderful performances.
Cinematically, the film finds the right tone for every scene; from car chases through corn fields and gazing over a hillside at sunset with horses in the backdrop to closeups allowing the viewer to connect with our heroes, it’s all simply beautiful.
While Redford has had an amazing career as an actor as well as wearing many other hats in life and in the film industry, we are lucky to be graced by his talent in this “truth is stranger than fiction” tale. There’s even a moral to the story, even if the morals are a bit skewed: Always do what you love.