Review: The Old Man & the Gun

David Lowery’s career so far has produced one of the weirdest bodies of work of any young director: the 70s pastiche Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, the surprisingly affecting family-friendly fantasy Pete’s Dragon, and the ambitious occult-psychological study A Ghost Story. His latest, clearly a vehicle for Robert Redford to leave the acting profession on his own terms, has almost nothing in common with those three previous films except casting: Redford appeared in Pete, and Casey Affleck, who plays a police detective here, was in both Saints and Ghost (the latter, however, mostly under a sheet).

Though based on a true story, The Old Man & the Gun takes such full advantage of Redford’s image that the viewer probably assumes that the man he plays, Forrest Tucker, wasn’t at all like the affable old gentleman on the screen. Tucker was a bank robber who spent a good deal of his adult life in prisons, and didn’t quit in his old age. Reportedly, his m.o. was courtesy and a non-threatening demeanor, despite the gun he carried on his jobs. Nobody was ever hurt as a result, and in the opening scene, which takes place in the early 80s, Tucker escapes from a job with police in pursuit and loses them by stopping on the side of the road to help a stranded motorist, the idea being that the cops would never expect someone on the lam to do that. Lowery cagily makes the reason for Tucker’s Good Samaritan act ambiguous, but in the end he charms the motorist, an older woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), and they embark on a relationship that seems more informed by some production decision to pair these two 70s icons in their dotage (though Spacek is about 15 years younger) than by the facts of the case. What the movie gains from this relationship is a sense of heretofore untapped possibility in that Jewel doesn’t seem particularly bothered when she finds out that Tucker is a career criminal who has yet to mend his ways. The plot point where Tucker offers to take over her mortgage seems credible enough, in fact.

Too much of the movie, however, is as low energy as its stars’ romance. Affleck’s detective, John Hunt, connects a series of robberies to Tucker in rather short time, but seems as charmed by the genteel robber as Jewel is, and while it doesn’t dampen his determination, it adds a bittersweet tone to their interactions that’s more sentimental than realistic. Less effective is the use of Danny Glover and Tom Waits as Tucker’s equally over-the-hill accomplices. Even when one of them is shot, there’s a fraternal feeling of well-being, as if they all know they’ll be repairing to the nearby bar and grill after the day’s shooting. There’s nothing here with the intensity of Saints, the heartfulness of Pete, or the ambition (no matter how ill directed) of Ghost. It’s a capable but underwhelming work of myth maintenance—not for Tucker, but for Redford.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001).

The Old Man & the Gun home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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