Photos | Fox Searchlight Pictures | Universal Pictures
From left: Robert Redford stars in what may be his final film, “The Old Man and the Gun.” In “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World,” Hiccup and Toothless finally discover their true destinies.
Robert Redford is a career criminal whose not-so-secret superpower is charisma in “The Old Man and the Gun,” the legendary octogenarian’s alleged final film. It is based on the true story of a man named Forrest Tucker, but it is more compellingly based on the true story of Redford’s career. Set in 1981, it harks back to Redford’s heyday and draws on his real persona in such a way that the plot is secondary to his presence, and this film becomes a kind of meta tribute experience for a true legend.
As an experience, it is not at all unpleasant to spend about 90 minutes being grinned at by Robert Redford. The film begins by establishing Forrest Tucker’s calm but effective method of robbing a bank. Forrest enters a bank, wearing a suit and what appears to be a hearing aid but is actually a device for listening to police scanners, and, with the greatest charm and decorum, sticks up the place. If an experienced young bank teller cries, he encourages her, and tells her she’s doing a good job.
As much as Tucker seems to enjoy his “work,” police detective John Hunt, portrayed by the ever-morose Casey Affleck, takes no pleasure from his. He has a beautiful and loving wife and kids, but remains decidedly hangdog in his profession, until one of these very low-key robberies takes place while Hunt is actually in the bank. He realizes that this unusual criminal has been pretty busy, and soon the pursuit of Tucker gives Hunt a sense of purpose.
The film occasionally threatens to enter “Wild Hogs” territory, like when Tucker assembles an affable gang of geezers, comprising Tom Waits and Danny Glover, earning them the nickname “The Over the Hill Gang.” Writer/director David Lowery, who also directed Affleck in the extraordinary 2017 film “A Ghost Story,” wisely doles out details about Forrest’s past after we’ve already fallen irreversibly in love with him. The twinkly eyed Forrest has already told an equally beguiling Sissy Spacek that he has no children when we find out the truth of that and other statements, and his devil-may-care persona is complicated at just the right time.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is not just set decades ago; it is also filmed to look like it was made then, and this works really well. It is a lighthearted caper flick, but it might have been more meaningful if it had lingered a bit longer on some dark spots. Rest assured, Redford handily supplies enough charm to fill this relatively short film, but maybe there could have been more to it.
The angle this story uses, instead, is to bask happily in Redford’s gaze, both in its current, wrinkly iteration and its many past lives. A montage of Forrest’s various prison escapes goes so far as to use footage from an earlier Redford film. When Hunt flips through old photos of Forrest in his lengthy police file, it further conflates Redford’s past films with Forrest’s past escapades. This is really a film about a man who loves his work playing a man who loves his work, and, while it has a few truly delightful and memorable scenes, I’d also like to see a version that is a smidge less in awe of its subject, however deserved that awe may be.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is currently available to rent.
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