If this does, as the man himself has hinted, prove to be the last acting role for Robert Redford, it will see the screen legend bow out in a role that plays to his strengths, namely a confident charisma that has been the hallmark of a career spanning some 50 years. Such is the easy charm that he so often exudes on screen, this certainly isn’t the first time that Redford has been able to adopt a criminal persona and make the character an extremely likeable individual, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The Sting (1973) to Sneakers (1992) and many more besides. This will never be remembered as one of his greatest moments – which is less to do with his performance than it is other factors – but it does ensure that he doesn’t end his career in something altogether abominable. Much of the charm here comes when Redford is sharing the screen with fellow Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek, a wonderful actress who, it seems, has suffered the same fate as many of her contemporaries in that age has proven a barrier to scoring meaningful big screen opportunities of late.
So, full credit to director David Lowery for harnessing the talents of Redford, Spacek, Danny Glover and the unmistakably gravelly-voiced Tom Waits in this somewhat slight crime caper in which career criminal Forrest Tucker (Redford) and cohorts Teddy (Glover) and Waller (Waits) stage a series or bank robberies that puts them in the sights of police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Adapted from a true story that featured as an article in the New Yorker by David Grann, Tucker is a career criminal who, since the age of 15, has spent his life getting sent to prison and then subsequently escaping from them. The film focuses on Tucker’s exploits after absconding from San Quentin Prison at the age of 70 to resume the life of crime that he simply can’t resist. When he meets Jewell (Spacek), Tucker finds himself with an opportunity, and a reason, to live on the straight and narrow, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can bring himself to walk away from the only way of life has ever known.
Lowery’s use of grainy 16mm film transports you back to those 1980’s days before the internet and smart phones were a thing, with both criminals and police alike relying on walkie-talkies and payphones to coordinate their activities. Although Tucker carries a gun, he is never seen holding it during the various robberies, relying on a wink and a smile rather than threats of violence to get the money, an approach that leads many of his victims to wax lyrical about his politeness and generally pleasant demeanour. The fact that Tucker is such a likeable figure might lead some to see him as an anti-hero of sorts given that he never engages in violence and only steals from banks. It is hard to have much sympathy for the banks given that they rob us blind every day, but Tucker is certainly no Robin Hood-type figure redistributing the proceeds of his deeds to the less fortunate.
With an eclectic collection of films to his credit (including Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Pete’s Dragon), this is certainly far more accessible than Lowery’s last effort (A Ghost Story) and many will no doubt appreciate seeing Redford one more time as a charmer who operates from the wrong side of the tracks. The entire cast are fine, with Affleck underselling Hunt’s capabilities as a detective in the early going, while a single scene featuring Elizabeth Moss seems to exist for no other reason than to feature Elizabeth Moss. Possessing a mellow vibe that perhaps romanticises Tucker’s criminality somewhat, The Old man and the Gun is an entertaining light-hearted romp that gives us one more chance to see a Hollywood legend strut his stuff.