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Review: The Old Man & the Gun (2018)

The Old Man & the Gun (2018)

Directed by: David Lowery  

Premise: Based on true events. In the early 1980s, sixty-one year old career criminal Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) and his crew rob banks. Tucker romances a woman (Sissy Spacek) while under investigation by a detective (Casey Affleck).

What Works: Although it’s based on true events, The Old Man & the Gun is primarily an escapist outlaw fantasy. It’s about a criminal who robs banks but the movie is light and playful as is its central character. Robert Redford stars in the lead, in what is purportedly his final acting role, and it is consistent with the kind of characters that were a staple of Redford’s career in movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Chase. He plays Forrest Tucker, a sexagenarian who has spent his life in and out of prison and has made a living for himself as a bank robber. Tucker breaks the law but he isn’t a bad guy. He regards his robberies like a game. He’s nice to the bank staff and although he carries a handgun he never fires it. Robert Redford’s charisma is on full display and both the character and the film are playful and even funny. Like a lot of outlaw pictures, The Old Man & the Gun is about freedom. Tucker lives on his own terms outside the law, the confines of domesticity, or the rigidity of a conventional career. It’s a romantic idealization of lawlessness, one that’s rooted in westerns, and Redford and the filmmakers sell it in a way that is appealing. And just like in the westerns there is a lawman looking to break the case and bring in a wanted criminal. Casey Affleck plays the detective on Tucker’s trail and while the detective character fulfills the conventions of a lawman he’s a bit more than that. Affleck’s character recognizes Tucker for who he is and just as Tucker’s robberies are a bit of fun the detective’s investigation is a puzzle that’s amusing to solve. Tucker begins a romance with a woman, played by Sissy Spacek. Their relationship is credible and Redford’s scenes with Spacek are very sweet. The pull between the outlaw lifestyle and the possibility of domestic stability creates a tension in the story. In between those choices is the detective who edges ever closer to catching Tucker and taking away both his freedom and his love. It’s a smart storytelling structure that multiples the tension.  

What Doesn’t: The Old Man & the Gun is a light movie both in tone and in substance. There’s not a whole lot to it and the film’s romanticized notion of criminality is disconnected from reality. Sissy Spacek’s character isn’t much more than a love interest. We get to know her a little bit but Spacek role is largely symbolic as women’s roles often were in the classic westerns. For a while it seems as though Tucker has made his choice but the very end of the film questions Tucker’s commitment to the woman he loves. It makes him a bit coarse in a way that isn’t in keeping with the genial tone of the rest of the movie.

DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, and featurettes.

Bottom Line: The Old Man & the Gun is an amiable outlaw fantasy. The story is light on substance but the characters are likeable enough to make the movie engaging. This is a fine sendoff for Robert Redford’s acting career.

Episode: #735 (January 27, 2019)