As I wrote in my most anticipated fall movies preview, my anticipation to see this movie was not Robert Redford or Sissy Spacek; it was director David Lowery. Lowery directed last year’s “A Ghost Story,” which is perhaps one of the boldest films made in the past decade, and definitely one of the best I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. He therefore had a tough act to follow (granted it’s his own), and while “The Old Man & the Gun” doesn’t match the emotional power of his spectral story, it still prides itself on simple execution and underlying complexity. Oh, and Robert Redford is great as well.
It’s almost surprising that this isn’t called “The Gentleman and the Gun,” since the script makes more reference to Redford’s calm and kind demeanor than his old age as he plays real-life Forrest Tucker, robbing banks along the east coast and into the south. He clearly enjoys his “work,” but not for the terror of it. It’s about life experience and finding joy in whatever you decide to do, which in Tucker’s case was clearly pulling off heists. He escaped from prison 18 times, and each time went on to rob more banks. He never fired his gun, he just simply brandished it and received the money. A scene even features him comforting a terrified young woman whose first day happens to be the day of Tucker’s latest heist.
Robert Redford absolutely nails this role, as we’re never once menaced by him, but charmed by his gentle nature. Even as he concocts the next robbery with his fellow thieves (Danny Glover being one of them), he is amicable and friendly – a true gentleman. Plus, his chemistry with Sissy Spacek is solid, considering it’s their first (and only) time they’ve starred together. I don’t see Redford garnering an Oscar nomination for this role (he would be deserving of one), though we might be surprised; voters certainly showed their favor for Daniel Day-Lewis and his last role with Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson).
Simple direction seems to be David Lowery’s forte, as there’s little need for flash. “A Ghost Story” had scenes where characters did nothing and the camera didn’t cut for nearly 5 minutes, while here we have the occasional odd camera pan or tracking shot. Even a chase scene feels muted, and therefore perfect for this movie. There’s written narration throughout, which lend strength to its status as a comedy, and several quiet moments where characters affect one another in subtle ways. When Tucker tries to convince Jewel (Spacek) to steal a bracelet, there’s nothing too grand in the way she ponders her choice. When police officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is inspired by Tucker’s “go-getter” attitude, there’s no profound moment of revelation when he spontaneously invites his wife out for drinks. These are simple moments in life that don’t need sensationalism to sell, and Lowery is a director that understands that.
My only issue with “The Old Man & the Gun” is its ending (or really, many teases). Without giving too much away, there were at least two times where I was convinced this movie was about to end, and it still went on. It’s a 90-minute movie but feels longer because of these cheap teases.
Simple in filmmaking but sophisticated in themes, “The Old Man & the Gun” is a fitting send-off for Robert Redford, as the film eagerly dwells on the joys of life and the overall experience of it, not just the legacy you leave behind.