Some movies are made solely for profit, some are made with a particular agenda in mind but a few are made simply for the love of the craft. In today’s cinematic landscape, there isn’t a great deal of space left for the latter. Fortunately, there is a bit more leeway near the end of the year when box office profits aren’t the only metric of a film’s value. The Old Man and the Gun came at just the right time of year and serves as the perfect send-off for a long and renowned career.
This is the story of Forrest Tucker: one of the most successful bank robbers of all time. David Lowery wrote and directed this film based on a New Yorker article of the same title by David Grann. The plot follows Tucker in the twilight of his career as he looks to find companionship while refusing to relinquish the one thing he loves most…robbing banks. While the premise was an interesting one, the film never quite got there. Sure, it was cute and had style but Lowery didn’t prioritize the best elements of the story. The dialogue was good bad but there wasn’t enough emphasis to separate minutia. He robs banks, he’s charming, the police are working on catching him…and that’s about it. The runtime is only 93 minutes, but it felt slow and that’s typically a bad sign while also being a commentary on the film’s pacing. This wasn’t a heist movie in the conventional sense, so that dramatic element isn’t there and the story of a guy who just loves robbing banks for the sport has its limitations. Unfortunately, all of those were on display. Lowery probably never intended for this movie to be typical in any way and its lack of energy didn’t deprive it of any substance. If anything, the narrative choice was almost too substantive which resulted in a beautiful, but slow, soliloquy.
On the bright side, Robert Redford is never short on charm. There is no secret that this movie was something of a love letter to the film icon and he didn’t disappoint in his farewell performance. He’s incredibly likable as more of a tragic hero. Tucker’s character flaws aren’t glaring or abrasive and Redford’s substantial charisma does the rest of the work, so you really can’t help but admire him…at least a little. Considering on-screen chemistry is severely lacking in this day and age, Redford and Sissy Spacek had plenty. Her character, Jewel, was just lonely enough to let her guard down for an old gentleman like Forrest and the two engaged in a very sweet courtship. There was something undeniably endearing about their pairing. Perhaps it’s because they were both at an age where they simply didn’t care about so much of the bullshit that we preoccupy ourselves with, and that’s refreshing. Both were seeking true companionship and it was rewarding to see that being valued and both are well-established screen legends in their own rights, but they had a very natural rapport with one another that carried the film.
Casey Affleck isn’t exactly widely liked in Hollywood as of late, but he’s established himself a top-shelf actor, for more than just his Oscar-winning performance in Manchester by the Sea. He plays John Hunt, the detective trying to solve the robberies and track down Tucker in the process. Along the way, he begins to admire the man he’s chasing and that brings up some conflicts of interest. Affleck has a subtle charm as well and his character provided enough challenge to make it worthwhile. He had worked with Lowery before on A Ghost Story in 2017 so the pair had a familiarity that lent itself to this project. Danny Glover and Tom Waits also had roles as part of the “Over the Hill Gang” but they were there in a very limited capacity that could have been avoided altogether. Nonetheless, the talent in the cast was substantial.
The performances were undoubtedly the driving forces behind the film but the original music by Daniel Hart brought a whole additional layer of character to the project. The score is wonderfully jazzy and optimistic, with strong notes of warmth and emotion. There is a strong sense of optimism evident in the uptempo bass and the perception of elegance brought forth by the smooth piano. Even though it was set in a mostly contemporary setting (the early 80s I believe), the compositions have a distinctly dated 60s era jazz sound that made the whole film like a product of a bygone era…and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Hart’s compositions have a splendid fluidity and the entire soundtrack is spot on, including tracks from The Kinks, Jackson Frank and Scott Walker.
The film had a distinct visual presence as well, appearing to be shot on old film stock with a heavy grain. Joe Anderson did a really nice job framing the exterior wide shots and building scale. There was a noticeable gray tone to the whole film stock that stripped most of the color from the environment and the toned down costumes (with the exception of Tucker’s trademark blue suit) made for a somewhat bland viewing experience. The visual aesthetic had its role but wasn’t the central focus.
This is a tough one for me to put my finger and maybe that’s okay. I liked many of the production elements and the acting performances were excellent but there was an overwhelming sense of boredom surrounding the film. Not everyone is going to feel the same way and the general critics’ consensus is positive, so there’s definitely something worth watching…even if it’s slow.
Recommendation: This is a film for film lovers, not for the average movie-goer. Watch it for the performances and the classic filmmaking on display, but it’s okay to wait for this one to come to you as well. It may be more palatable on the small screen and there is no overwhelming reason to see it in theaters…except, it is the last time you’l’ see Robert Redford on the big screen.