You wouldn’t think it given the subject, but THE OLD MAN & THE GUN is a playful change-of-pace for director David Lowery, a superb director, whose films are typically mournful and elegiac. While definitely a story about a career criminal on the decline, there’s a sweetness and joy to the film that’s surprisingly upbeat. Robert Redford’s Forrest Tucker, a real-life character, may be an unrepentant criminal, but hey — he sincerely loves his work. He’s robbing banks, but loving every second of it, and that joy informs the tone of the movie.
If Redford’s to be believed and this is in fact his swan song (as an actor), he’s going out on the type of A-level piece of work that few of his contemporaries have had the luck to manage. Redford, despite being in his eighties, is very much at the top of his game. He’s still got his looks and his talent, and his reputation is as good as ever, making him a beloved figure very much like his late old partner in crime, Paul Newman.
In fact, Redford seems to almost be playing this as a tribute to his old pal, trying on a light, flintiness that’s truthfully not something he’s ever really been known for, but it works beautifully here. Director Lowery plays to his strengths, with Tucker, for all of his crimes, staying a likeable rogue, while the romance is amped up to allow for a nice, autumn romance between him and the always excellent Spacek. It’s not overdone — it’s just right.
More than anything he’s done in years, this is Redford’s show all the way, and it seems to have been reverse engineered to give him that acting Oscar that’s always eluded him (he’s only been nominated as an actor once — for THE STING, while he also won an Oscar for directing ORDINARY PEOPLE). He’s well-supported by a loose, likeable Casey Affleck, who always seems to do his best work under Lowery’s direction. Given Redford’s stature, a who’s who of supporting players have been roped in, with the meatiest roles going to Tom Waits and Danny Glover as his over-the-hill gang cronies, while Elisabeth Moss has a single scene as his estranged daughter. Tika Sumpter is excellent and warm as Affleck’s wife, while John David Washington, Keith Carradine and Isiah Whitlock Jr., have walk-ons. Clearly, a lot of folks wanted to be part of Redford’s last movie, and who can blame them.
In keeping with the light tone, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN only runs about ninety minutes, and tells a condensed version of his life story, actually leaving some of the more unbelievable aspects off-screen. It’s one of those stranger-than-fiction stories, but Lowery never takes it too far. It’s a surprisingly fun, seventies-style character piece with a sense of humor, and indeed, Redford’s going out on a high note.
By: Chris Bumbray