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The Sundance Kid's Last Bank Job

Robert Redford
Robert Redford
Fox Searchlight Pictures
 93 Minutes
Directed by: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck   
The Old Man & the Gun

It’s surprising how few veteran movie actors go out on their own terms, in a film that’s worthy of their talent. All too often, death or declining health puts an end to a career leaving a dud like Errol Flynn’s Cuban Rebel Girls as a dismal swan song. Fortunately, Robert Redford, as close to an acting treasure as we have nowadays, still seems spry and in full control at age 82, but, perhaps recognizing the uncertainties that future acting assignments might bring, has already announced that his current starring vehicle, The Old Man & the Gun, will be his last film. If so (and I certainly hope that’s not the case), he’s chosen a great final exhibit to an illustrious career.


The Old Man & the Gun is the story, more or less true, of Forrest Tucker, not the actor but a bank robber whose criminal career extended over seven decades. During that time, Tucker escaped from various prisons 18 times, some of which could easily have been made into movies of their own. The events portrayed in the film took place in the early 1980s when Tucker and a couple of similarly long-in-the-tooth accomplices pulled off a few dozen robberies and were dubbed the “Over-the-Hill Gang” by law enforcement authorities. Although his lengthy criminal career in and of itself was notable, Tucker’s defining trait, and what undoubtedly drew Redford to the role, was his gentlemanly demeanor and the way he charmed his victims rather than intimidated them.


The Old Man & the Gun takes great care in having Tucker describe his modus operandi, and writer/director David Lowery complements this description with a montage showing several of the robberies. In each robbery, Tucker cases the bank carefully to make sure the layout is favorable, then shows up wearing a suit. He opens his coat to reveal the gun but never draws it; in fact, the audience never actually sees the weapon during any of the robberies depicted. Tucker then politely asks for the money from the teller or manager, smiling all the while. And his method worked, over and over again, both in the movie and in real life.


Considering that Forrest Tucker was a laid back, easy going, charming character, and he’s being played in The Old Man & the Gun by Robert Redford, about as laid back, easy going, and charming an actor as there is today, it’s no surprise that the movie has a relaxed pace to it. Writer/director David Lowery has no desire to make this into a conventional cops-and-robbers story; instead, he is content to give his actors the stage and let them perform.


In that regard, Lowery is fortunate to have, in addition to Redford, several other highly talented actors in the cast. Foremost among them is Sissy Spacek as Jewel, a widow who meets Tucker immediately after one of his robberies when her car has broken down on the expressway, and he stops, ostensibly to help her, but actually to divert suspicion away from himself when the pursuing police go by. Tucker and Jewel are attracted to each other immediately, and love blossoms gradually. This isn’t a grand passion (they exchange one kiss during the entire movie), but it’s far more romantic than most scenes today involving actors half their ages. Ironically, although she’s taken in by his manner, Jewel never quite believes the stories Tucker tells her about his life as a bank robber.


Of course, a cops-and-robbers movie, even a laidback one like The Old Man & the Gun, needs its cops, and the chief investigator on the case is John Hunt (Casey Affleck), a Dallas detective who, as the movie begins, is rapidly getting burned out on the job as he hits age 40. But then, he and his grade school age son are customers in one bank while Tucker is robbing it, practically right under Hunt’s nose, and the policeman is utterly unaware of what’s going on until several squad cars pull up to the bank, well after Tucker and his partner (Tom Waits) have left the premises with a briefcase full of loot.


Affleck and director Lowery make a shrewd decision as to the portrayal of Hunt. Many directors would either have turned his character into an Inspector Clouseau-like buffoon or an angry, obsessed type. Instead, Hunt finds his career and life invigorated as he puts his energies into discovering who Tucker is, while, at the same time, coming to like the guy as much as his victims do. Affleck underplays the role nicely and is content to let Redford outshine him, but he’s in good measure responsible for how effective the movie is.


David Lowery could probably have made the story of Forrest Tucker (or, at least, the part of Tucker’s life that he describes in this movie) into a 30-minute episode of a TV true-crime docudrama. As a feature-length film, however, there’s not a lot to The Old Man & the Gun. A couple of the robberies don’t quite go as planned, but there is almost none of the suspense and tension audiences generally associate with this type of movie. As a result, viewers will probably realize well before the film is over that what they are seeing isn’t really the life story of a highly colorful criminal, but, instead, an acting showcase being put on by one of our best actors.


Despite all the able assistance provided by Spacek, Affleck, Waits, and Danny Glover (as the other member of Tucker’s crew), this movie is still a Robert Redford star vehicle, and he handles it as he does most other things, with his usual style, wit, and grace. Redford puts the audience at ease much the same as Tucker put his victims at ease. But attentive viewers will note that Redford is always in character, with little bits of business such as keeping an eye out for possible security cameras or other danger every time he goes out in public. Despite what might appear at first glance, this isn’t just Redford spinning tales and sweet talking for 92 minutes; it’s him delivering one of his better performances.


The Old Man & the Gun is more of a trifle blown up to feature length than an actual movie, and there are times that the audience will be acutely aware of that fact. However, most of the time, they will be more than happy just to go along with Robert Redford and his talented co-stars and be entertained. This film is actually two separate love stories, both of which are told quite well. The first is the refreshingly old-fashioned romance between Tucker and Jewel, and the second is the effortless seduction of the viewing audience by Robert Redford. If this is indeed his last bow, then we are very grateful that he’s chosen to save some of his best for the last.

In this clip, Robert Redford discusses his bank-robbing technique with Sissy Spacek.

Read other reviews of The Old Man & the Gun: 

The Old Man & the Gun (2018) on IMDb