Rumoured to be Robert Redford’s final film, The Old Man and the Gun is an anticlimactic finale to an impressive career. At 82-years-old, Redford’s performance manages to convey the appropriate class and swagger that one might expect from a charming bank robber. However, after 30 minutes of Hollywood smiles, and crisp suits, it all just seems a tad lacklustre. The gritty, hardened criminal that we might expect from a man in and out of prison his whole life isn’t to be found. Redford’s career ends not with a bang but a sputter…
Directed by David Lowery (A Ghost Story (2017)), one of Hollywood’s latest talents, we expected something memorable yet fairly obscure. Adapted from David Grann’s article of the same name, The Old Man and the Gun, this tale tells the true-life (ish) story of Forest Tucker, a career criminal who specialises in bank robbery. Uncharacteristically understated, Tucker is a breezy, charming older gentleman who asks for money with a smile.
We’re first introduced to Tucker in early 60s Texas, during a bank heist getaway where he encounters Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widowed ranch-owner. Initially using her as a prop in his sly getaway, he eventually builds a romantic rapport with Jewel over the next decade; seeing her periodically when he’s on a heist in Texas. Jewel is wise to Tucker’s criminal exploits but chooses to remain ignorant to the extent of his criminality.
Although this is a charming and endearing relationship that illustrates that you’re never too old to find love, it seems slightly contrived. Twinkly eyes, pearly grins and various close-ups of the couple’s pleasantly creased faces displays their serenity yet conceals realistic elements that the film desperately cries out for.
After all, Tucker is a bank robber who left his wife and daughter behind, without as much as a phone call. Our encounter with Tucker’s daughter (played by Elisabeth Moss) who has never met her father yet vows to want nothing to do with him, is the only indication that Tucker may not be the charming Prince of Thieves we envision him to be.
The classic criminal twist of whether he’ll be captured or manage to sustain his illicit exploits dramatizes the plot, adding an air of suspense that seems to sweep through the room as quickly as it entered. John Hunt, played by Casey Affleck, is a local detective who is barely recognised as Tucker’s pursuer. Although he adds a friendly, familial element that Tucker sorely lacks, Affleck’s performance is flat and insipid. Detective John Hunt feels like a missed opportunity for some genuine action and excitement. Tasking himself with bringing the bank robber to justice, Detective Hunt begins to piece together the puzzle but not before the FBI takes over the case. Rather than the frustration, and fallout we might expect from this move, Hunt’s reaction is strangely stoic.
Indeed, Tucker is barely a threat and his behaviour seems strangely moralising in the given context. Without a dramatic arc and no conflict or resolution, it’s hard to see where this film is trying to go. Tucker’s previous sixteen prison breaks which are revealed at the end of the film, adds light humour that’s fitting with the film’s sauntering pace.
Lowery’s film succeeds in creating a placid, ambling film for older generations to enjoy in the comfort of their recliners but it lacks the excitement and ingenuity that Lowery is known for. Rather than a true Lowery film, it’s a stilted homage to an actor well past his sell-by-date. Tender? Yes. A missed opportunity? Definitely.
Words, Millie Bull