Robert Redford might regret saying that his starring role in The Old Man & the Gun may be his final on-screen performance. But if Redford is indeed going to retire from acting, he chose an excellent role to put a final bow on his acting career.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing Forrest Tucker, a 70-year-old man who can’t give up robbing banks. He just loves it too much and doesn’t want to do anything else. And don’t tell him that he’s too old for this; he’ll just take that as a challenge and try to show you wrong.
Tucker is an absolute charmer, which plays perfectly to Redford’s strengths as an actor. (Even when Redford is playing a deadly serious character, he shows off a wit that can easily pull someone to his side.) The shock of a kind, extremely well-dressed old man suddenly declaring that he’s robbing the bank — usually by showing his holstered revolver — is enough to make tellers and bank managers all too willing to comply.
Policemen and federal agents are amused and flustered by a common statement among all of the people he encounters during his robberies: He was really polite. He was so nice.
It’s almost surprising that Tucker wasn’t given a nickname like “The Gentleman Bandit” (though that would probably be an implicit endorsement of his actions). The media dubs the trio “The Over-the-Hill Gang,” however.) We should probably be thankful that director David Lowery didn’t give this movie such a title either. “The Old Man and the Gun” is taken from the 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann that told Tucker’s improbable story.
Tucker also stays a bit below the radar because the story is so hard to believe. Local law enforcement prefers to tip its hat rather than attempt to pursue and apprehend him. Besides, Tucker and his cohorts, played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits, don’t take that much money in their heists. These aren’t elaborate thefts that involve taking all of the bank’s money. Tucker only takes the cash that’s in the teller drawers. He’s not going for what’s in the vault.
It’s one reason that the trio keeps robbing banks, in addition to the thrill of the stick-up. Waits’s character even remarks at some point that they need a bigger score, especially since they’re fast approaching an age when they won’t be able to do these operations anymore.
But for the purposes of this movie, “the gun” is Redford himself. It’s easy to see how so many fall for his charms, disarmed by his gentle demeanor even when threatened with a firearm. There’s even a goofiness to his act, which usually comes with a fake mustache. Tucker almost seems to be saying “Yeah, can you believe this?” with his expression. One might almost laugh if not for the inherent seriousness of the situation.
Arguably the best scenes in the film are when Tucker gets to put his charm on full display, best demonstrated when he first meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), an older woman who unwittingly provides cover as he’s being pursued by police. If it’s part of his act to take her out for coffee after he gets away, Tucker soon becomes legitimately intrigued by Jewel, who’s endearing yet tough. Like him, she’s on her own and doesn’t like being told what she should be doing at this stage of her life.
Redford’s eyes light up as Tucker explains to Jewel what he does for a living — a story she doesn’t believe, because how could she? But for Tucker, that doesn’t matter. Even if their developing relationship has a lie hanging over it — Tucker settles for the explanation that he’s a traveling salesman — he loves the companionship that Jewel and her Texas farm provide.
The question is whether or not Tucker can get out of his own way and enjoy the life that someone his age should probably covet. But that’s the problem with Tucker. It’s like he never outgrew playing Cops and Robbers as a kid, even when the robberies became real and actual police cars began chasing him down. He loves the thrills of the heist and chase, which is delightfully clear with the big smile on his face.
Understandably, The Old Man & The Gun relies heavily on Redford’s charisma and the chemistry he has with Spacek. That’s also on display with the interplay between Tucker and the detective tracking him down, played by Casey Affleck. The scene in which they confront each other is a much warmer, more amusing of the face-off between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat.
If only the entire movie could just be scenes with Redford and Spacek or Redford and Affleck. Otherwise, there’s just not a lot of story here once the initial premise is established. Though Lowery does include a fun montage at the end which details Tucker’s history of crime and the daring escapes he’s pulled off to keep it going. This is a fitting tribute to Robert Redford’s career and if you’re a fan, that might be enough.