If “The Old Man & the Gun” is Robert Redford’s final movie as an actor, as he says it is, then it’s a fitting end to a career filled with lovable outlaw roles.
In “Old Man,” Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a real-life bank robber who spent his life perfecting the art of being polite and considerate when taking other people’s money. He doesn’t pull a gun. He just shows it in a holster under his sport coat. And he tries to make the tellers and bank managers feel safe as they’re shoveling cash into a briefcase.
“He seemed like a nice man,” more than one victim tells police.
Based on a 2003 article by David Grann in The New Yorker, Dallas writer/director David Lowery adapted the tale with Redford and Sissy Spacek in mind. Spacek plays Redford’s late-in-life paramour, Jewel, and the two have a chemistry that will make you smile.
Jewel meets Tucker when her truck breaks down outside Dallas. Tucker, who’s just pulled a heist, stops his car, gets out and approaches Jewel, hiding under the hood as a police car zooms by. Jewel asks Tucker whether he knows anything about engines, and he says, “No.” She laughs, and he offers her a ride to town — and a bite to eat at a diner. She asks him what he does for a living. And he explains how he’s a nice robber. She laughs. And she half-believes him.
Their repartee throughout the movie rarely digs deep into his profession. But they don’t need to talk much. Their characters seem meant for each other.
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If Redford and Spacek bring sparks to “The Old Man & the Gun,” the supporting cast makes its engine hum. Casey Affleck plays Detective John Hunt, a Texan who takes a keen interest in the old man’s exploits. And before long, he discovers that his prey has escaped prison 16 times. (Yes, Tucker escaped prison 16 times during his long career.)
Hunt gives Tucker and his robber pals (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) the nickname “The Over-the-Hill Gang,” and a cat-and-mouse game ensues between the detective and the robber.
Meanwhile, Jewel takes care of the horses on her ranch and waits for Tucker to show up for the occasional visit. It’s an easygoing romance that’s more companionable than physical.
Tucker and his pals, however, get the urge to try to make a big score, rather than robbing the small banks that dot the countryside of 1980s Texas and elsewhere. As you might suspect, going big means getting the attention of the FBI.
If there’s a flaw to this tale, it’s that Tucker should have known better than to make a big score. He is flying under the FBI's radar, and he’s not spending his illicit bounty in a showy way. He’s hiding it. He doesn’t need the money. He just enjoys the game.
Then again, life without a few failures would be dull. Tucker loves the game, and if he gets caught, he’ll just escape again. As you’ll see, all of this occurs while Redford’s Tucker has a glint in his eye.
If this is Redford’s final role, American moviegoers will surely miss him. There’s a montage near the end of the movie, and it’s probably best not to describe it here. But it’s a perfect way to remind us that we’re watching one of our last old-time movie stars.