Directed by David Lowery
Length: 93 Minutes
Some films strive to be the most thought provoking of the year or the most emotional or the most hair-raising. The Old Man & The Gun is content to be the most smile inducing film of the year. It achieves this with a kind sense of humor towards a gentle but greatly flawed man. A healthy dose of nostalgia for the rebellious tone 60s and 70s cinema doesn’t hurt either.
As the film opens, Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) and his Over the Hill Gang accomplices Teddy Green (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) are traveling throughout the southern United States and pulling off very low key bank robberies. In each case, Forrest enters the bank, shows an employee his gun and makes off with a nice chunk of cash. During each of these robbery sequences, director David Lowery refuses to show us the gun, focusing instead on the robber’s kindly smile and charming gaze. I’ll make more of an effort to confirm it the next time I watch, but I do not recall seeing a trigger pulled at any point in the film. Circumstances unfold that result in firearms being discharged, but these shots are heard, not seen. It’s a choice that forces the audience to focus on the coolness and power of its protagonist and not any appeal some might find in his gun.
While fleeing the cops early in the film, Tucker stops to help Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whose broken down truck offers for him an opportunity to evade the law yet again. Jewel and Forrest hit it off, of course, and it’s probably no big spoiler to say his affection for her causes him to reflect a bit on his lifestyle. Redford and Spacek have chemistry and their scenes are enjoyable, but their relationship is less interesting than the one developing between Forrest and John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a detective who is disillusioned with his job and worries that one day his young children will also find themselves stuck in a joyless career.
This is an enjoyable, light film. The plot goes where you expect it to, but that’s okay because it’s fun to hang out with these characters. At least it was for me. I went in to this expecting nothing more than a love letter to the career of Robert Redford, who claimed this was his last film as an actor before kind of walking that back. In fact, the way Forrest earns his living is a nifty metaphor for the wealth audiences have handed one of cinema’s most legendary leading gentlemen. The movie delivers endearingly on its promise and makes for a comforting romp.
The auditorium I watched the film in was about two thirds full, and most of the audience seemed to enjoy what they saw. I did overhear several women in the row directly in front of me complaining because they expected more action. That bothered me, because theaters are full of action these days, and much of it at the expense of interesting characters. There are exciting moments in The Old Man & The Gun, but you have to be willing to be excited by things other than bullets flying and people bleeding.
Lowery’s script does has some shortcomings. It introduces a character named Dorothy (Elisabeth Moss), who sheds some light on Forrest’s past and is never seen again. I would have liked to see more of her. Lowery tries to balance out his admiration for Forrest’s guts and ingenuity by showing the hurt feelings his commitment to crime have caused over the years. His efforts still end up uneven in this regard. Also, I know this is Redford’s swan song and therefore his show, but why cast Tika Sumpter and John David Washington and give them so little to do?
Lowery’s script may have some flaws, but his directing is near perfect. Watching the film, I felt he must have studied both Arthur Penn and Sydney Pollack extensively.
In substance, The Old Man & The Gun may be little more than a smoothly executed blast from the past, but it’s a nice way to chill out for a bit and take a breather in-between the serious and weighty, if very worthy, themes that most of today’s great films focus on.