An old man walks into a bank and asks to open an account. When asked what kind of account he would like to open, he shows the manager his weapon. All those who have come into contact with the titular Old Man agree he is a gentleman, and none can say for sure whether he actually carried a gun. Reportedly Robert Redford’s final performance before he retires from acting, The Old Man and the Gun follows the life of professional bank robber and escape artist Forrest Tucker. After an audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70, Tucker balances a love life and a love for a life of crime, robbing a slew of banks and evading police for years.
It is a part that seems made for Redford, a culmination of his career simply by paying tribute to the type of characters he has been playing for years. Tucker is the loveable rogue, the charming antihero seen most famously in Redford’s portrayal of the Sundance Kid. But also within him is the romantic lead Redford played in the 80’s, and the everyman American hero of films like The Natural and Brubaker. It is remarkably easy to identify with and believe in Forrest,helped to no end by a script packed with wise romanticisms and humanity. Taking any single quotation at random, it would seem lyrical without a hint of condescension.
If there was any danger of Redford’s performance stealing the film, however, it evaporates with the introduction of Jewel, played with unparalleled sympathy by Sissy Spacek. More than a simple love interest, Jewel and Forrest’s relationship grows from beautifully sweet into something pure; Spacek matches every one of Redford’s eye twinkles with a wry smile. It is a credit to writer/director David Lowery to have created a relationship that feels so real,when another filmmaker may have chosen a more action-fuelled route for this story. There are few scenes that approach sequences one might expect from a crime film, and those few are hardly a visual spectacle. But the tension is there,because Lowery takes the time to build his characters, and to build a connection. It is this connection that imbues Forrest’s every success with joy,his every moment of uncertainty with despair.
Secondhand insight into Tucker’s life comes from the ongoing investigation by Casey Affleck’s police detective John Hunt. Quietly determined, Hunt provides a route to perspective reminiscent of films like Catch Me if You Can – whether or not this is a script cliche, it is fully justified in time. From a respectful point of view, Hunt’s obsession is fuelled by a curiosity that is hard not to share in, and Affleck plays the role with an appropriate calculated calmness. The pay-off, perhaps inevitably, is a Heat-esque scene allowing for a pivotal face off between two incredibly talented actors. Mirroring Hunt’s relaxed intrigue, Joe Anderson’s cinematography paints a beautiful, if slightly grainy, world, while Daniel Hart’s score eases the film into low, consistently cheerful, gear.
With a gorgeous aesthetic and astounding performances from the three central actors, Lowery has crafted an impressive piece. It is a film that harks back to a genre forgotten in the age of fast paced action and screen dominating CGI. The Old Man and the Gun is an easy adventure, complete with the 80’s values of Indiana Jones or The Goonies. And in a satisfying circular sense, it is a spiritual sequel to 1973’s The Sting – a Sunday afternoon film if there ever was one.Redford’s only Oscar nomination for acting was awarded for his performance as Johnny Hooker, but with a Golden Globe nomination secured this week, perhaps Tucker is the path to a second, 45 years later.
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