Review: The Old Man & The Gun (2018)

Robert Redford's fond farewell to Hollywood

In late 1970s America, a bank robbing spree fronted by the real-life gentleman thief Forest Tucker (Robert Redford), and his so-called ‘The Over-the-Hill Gang’ captures the nation’s attention. And a down on his luck detective, John Hunt (Casey Affect) just might be the man to put an end to Tucker’s life of crime once and for all.                  

Robert Redford. Born, Charles Robert Redford Jr, Hollywood icon, Oscar winning director, and independent film champion, bids a fond farewell to his almost six decades’ long career as an actor onstage and screen in The Old Man & The Gun. It was wayback in 1969, when Bob’s breakthrough leading man role playing the famed outlaw The Sundance Kid in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid alongside the late, great Paul Newman, put him on the long and winding trail to becoming a movie star in every sense of the word. Always a handsome, charming and thoughtful screen presence, with an affinity for rule breakers, Redford masterfully distills his life in movies in a final bittersweet performance that is a fitting curtain call to his illustrious acting career.

The crackle of a police scanner, cop chatter, and the sound of a ticking watch. The soundtrack Forest Tucker (Robert Redford) lived his whole life by, strolling, oh so casually with a smile on his face into banks all across America, and robbing them with just a gun, a small leather bag, and a few charming words… We meet Tucker, now in his late 60s, dressed in a sharp blue suit, fedora hat, with a cracking 1970s moustache, doing what he loves best: sticking up a bank – “I’d like to make a withdrawal”… Tellingly, Tucker’s preferred modus operandi is more an act of seduction than a violent shoot-out.

In the settling dust of a smooth and professional getaway, Tucker offers some roadside assistance to Jewel (Sissy Spacek), her old pickup truck has given up the ghost – “Do you know much about cars?” to which Tucker’s always assured voice replies – “No, not really”. In the glow of the L.A. sun, a warm and gentle banter forms between these two old souls, both marooned by age, but still full of life and witty spark. We watch Tucker and Jewel’s old school courtship, dinner dates, and a shopping trip that almost turns into a jewellery heist, and simply marvel at Redford and Spacek’s effortless timing and chemistry, only achieved by years of perfecting their craft onscreen: they’re peerless in 2018. So, savour every moment.                                

The Old Man & The Gun is shot in 16mm, adding a Hollywood New Wave era vibe to an almost rose-tinted version of 1970s America full of honest bank managers, bustling diners, and idyllic horse ranches – yes, realism takes a back seat here, and that’s no bad thing. The myth of Forest Tucker and “The Over-The-Hill” gang, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits) is far more interesting and often poignant. Tucker and Teddy butt heads over one last big score “Now I know what I’m doing. But I also know what I’m capable of, and those are two different things”, but Tucker’s endless enthusiasm for life is utterly infectious. So much so, police detective John Hunt (Casey Affect) hot on Tucker and the gang’s tail after being blindsided by them at his local bank branch, shakes off a deep middle-aged depression and embraces Tucker’s motto “It’s not about making a living. It’s about living”. The cop and crook form an off-beat, and mostly arms-length kinship – their final confrontation happens in the hallway of a small diner, and it is the antithesis of the famous showdown scene in Heat (1995), just so you know. 

It is hard to imagine this film would have existed, if it wasn’t for writer and director David Lowery’s first collaboration with Redford on Peter’s Dragon (2016) and harder still, they would have followed it up with a small low-budget grey pound crime dramedy. And yet, Lowery perfectly intertwines Tucker’s mythical life story with Redford’s own filmography, the most iconic moment being a clever nod back to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Tucker finds himself wounded, slumped on a horse, atop a hill, as a squad of cop cars races towards him. It’s a genuine and heartfelt moment, and the tipping of the hat to some of Redford’s most famous roles never feels like fan service. And refreshingly in the era of digitally de-ageing, Lowery doesn’t shy away from Redford’s age, the grainy close ups of the actor’s eighty-two year old craggy (still very handsome) face are magical to watch.        

As the credits roll-on Robert Redford for the last time, it’s hard not to think perhaps he always thought making a film was like robbing a bank. The stakes can be that high. And it isn’t called movie jail for nothing right…? Well, Redford, Lowery & co, all can happily enjoy their spoils, but it’s hard not to feel a little robbed of another great movie star.      

The Old Man & The Gun is a fond farewell to one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men, the incomparable Robert Redford, and it will be a real crime if you miss it!    

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