WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
The story of Robert Tucker’s audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 and the unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt, who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman who loves Tucker in spite of his chosen profession.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The Old Man & the Gun has been reported to be Robert Redford’s final film and, though there might be something ironic about finishing such a momentous film career with such a small and unassuming swansong, it actually turned out to be a fairly fitting farewell.
It is undoubtedly a very slow, very serene and ultimately not massively memorable film but its central theme of leaving behind something to which you devoted your whole life, something for which you have a real knack for and something that exists well beyond the parameters of a conventional nine-to-five job, undoubtedly echoes Redford’s decision to retire from, if not filmmaking, then at least acting.
The ampersand in the title is no doubt a very intentional choice because this film is pointedly not about an “old man and his gun” but about an “old man & his gun”; a collaboration that is so intimate and so inextricably linked that it can’t be signified by something as divisive as an “and”. Ironically enough, though, it seems most likely that our anti-hero Frank (Redford, obviously) and his gang of gentlemen criminals (Danny Glover and a scene stealing Tom Waits) never actually fired a single shot in their entire career as their method of robbing banks to be as effective as it is genteel and, yes, gentleman-like. Nonetheless, the title still signifies a life of crime that is less a vocation than a calling – exactly the sort of lifelong career that a life in film has been for Robert Redford himself.
Written and directed by acclaimed and sometimes experimental filmmaker, David Lowery (Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), The Old Man & the Gun is far more about exploring the mindset of someone like Forrest Tucker – and, despite their obviously hugely different career paths, that of his leading man – than it is in being anything resembling a conventional heist film. Think Hell or High Water rather than Ocean’s 8, though with still far less action and a more wryly bemused and melancholy emotional palette than the emotional gut-punch and sardonic humour of Taylor Sheridan’s masterpiece.
That sense of gentleness, quiet melancholia and understated humour is both a large part of why the film is a pleasure to watch (as long as you’re neither tired nor looking for much in the way of excitement) and why, in the end, it just doesn’t make a particularly indelible impression. I had all but entirely forgotten about The Old Man & the Gun in the weeks since I saw it but, sitting down to write about it now, I’m reminded of its many charms.
I’m reminded of the wonderful performances from a decidedly experienced cast; the easy likeability of all the characters, the breezily cool of the bank robberies themselves, and, most of all, how effectively, subtly and unpretentiously it deals with the themes it brings up. Bringing it back to Robert Redford, one of the film’s greatest pleasures and why it is such a fitting goodbye on more than just a thematic level is the way it uses Redford’s own past films, in the form of both still photos and video, to recreate Forrest’s own past. It’s probably not an intentional summation of Redford’s career – this is the work, after all, of a filmmaker with very much his own vision and his own story to tell – but it becomes exactly that. And, by the simple fact that it is such a small, indie-spirited film is a reminder of yet another aspect of Redford’s incredible contribution to film – and this is easily one of his most incredible – the Sundance Film Festival, which for decades has been the home and saviour of exactly these kinds of films.
Whether or not this is the last we see of Redford in front of the cameras (and as he himself said, never say never), The Old Man & the Gun is an unexceptional but highly enjoyable, if sleepy, little film on its own terms but is elevated to a must-see for fans of a guy who has been an exceptional force for good in cinema over the past half century (plus).