The Old Man & the Gun is peak Robert Redford. A film about Forrest Tucker, a man so charismatic that even as a serial bank robber, you can’t help but be captivated by his charm. Billed as Robert Redford’s last acting role, it is impossible to not view the entire film through this prism. Director David Lowery clearly reshaped the New Yorker story written by David Grann in order to soften the main character and fit Redford’s persona. And with nods to, and footage from, Redford’s previous films, The Old Man & the Gun is an encapsulation of all things Redford — from his films to his personality.
Every aspect of this film has been crafted by David Lowery to feel as though it is from the early 80’s as opposed to simply being set in that time period. Lowery’s use of 16mm film gives the picture a grainy texture that has long been overtaken by the sharp, sterile pictures of modern digital filmmaking. Beyond the visuals and obvious style choices, the narrative structure and pacing of the film harken back to the classic Redford films of yesteryear. It is by no means a fast movie, but it also never screeches to a grinding halt by leaning too far into the melodrama as most movies of that era are inclined to do. It is deliberate in its storytelling and moves in lockstep with the calm confidence of its leading man.
Robert Redford is truly a king of cinema. Not much more can be written about him that hasn’t been covered thousands of times over. The man is pure charisma in the form of a human being and can communicate so much without ever saying a word. The Old Man & the Gun is undoubtedly a Redford vehicle first and foremost. But it is the addition of Sissy Spacek that provides an escape from the repetitive bank robberies. The moments with Spacek and Redford feel so natural that it is like you are eavesdropping on a real conversation as opposed to watching a scripted scene. These moments are so genuine that even a mundane conversation over a cup of coffee is endearing and reminiscent of high school sweethearts sharing a milkshake. Beyond Spacek, Tucker’s “Over the Hill Gang” trio is rounded out by Danny Glover and Tom Waits who are resigned to bit roles with little impact to the story. Casey Affleck adds to his already impressive supporting actor resume with a subtly nuanced performance as detective John Hunt — the man tasked with tracking down the Over the Hill Gang.
The Old Man & the Gun manages to feel entirely wholesome despite being a story of an outlaw bank robber. It is sweet in all the right ways and is balanced out by the vintage grittiness of both the visuals and the story which prevent it from being saccharine. If this is indeed Robert Redford’s last film, it feels like the perfect embodiment of his style and a fitting capstone to an illustrious career. But when the character Forrest Tucker says “It’s not about making a living, it’s about living” in regards to robbing banks, you can’t help but feel it’s really Robert Redford talking about acting. The only way for each of these men to live is to be doing what they love.