Riding Off Into the Sunrise
If I were required to write a one sentence review of “The Old Man & The Gun” for use in a movie ad, it would be “A simple, quiet, and satisfying film filled with outstanding performances”. But I do not have to, or want to, do that, so I have the pleasure of saying more about this enjoyable and fascinating film.
Written and directed by David Lowery, “Old Man” stars Robert Redford as Forrest Tucker, an amiable elderly bank robber with a mysterious past. Loosely based on a true story laid out in a 2003 New Yorker article, the movie focuses on Tucker’s relentless pursuit of his craft, which seems as much a hobby as an enterprise.
Early in the film, Tucker pulls over to the side of the ride to assist Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who’s truck has overheated. He actually is using the seemingly kind gesture as a way of avoiding the pursuing police after holding up a bank. The thing is, Tucker actually makes you feel as if he is doing something nice, just as he gently coerces the tellers and bank managers he robs with a light smile on his face.
Tucker always shows, or intimates, that he has a gun, but he never uses it, at least as far as we see. He is assisted in this series of numerous robberies throughout the Midwest in the late 70’s and early 80’s by Teddy and Waller (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), but Tucker does all the heavy lifting.
The sporadic relationship with Jewel slowly builds, and the chemistry between Redford and Spacek is palpable. Redford had hinted that this might be his last film, although he has recently backed off on that a bit. If it were to be his last acting role, he would leave one to remember. His face has always been one of his best tools, from glamour boy in his youth, to weathered, and now on to craggy, and it serves him well once again.
The scenes between Redford and Spacek are among the many highlights of the film, each using their expressions to fill the spaces of the spare, but well-crafted dialogue. Lowery’s writing is sharp and smart, with one of the unique aspects of the film the little dialogues that are going on concurrently in scenes where Tucker is robbing the banks. Perhaps the best is when we are introduced early on to dogged Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is telling a silly tongue-twister joke to his son while banking as Tucker pulls a heist.
Hunt is already on the case and he is brilliantly played by Affleck. I confess to being an unabashed fan of Affleck, and nobody does world weary like him. Hunt is growing tired of being a cop, but he loves it too much to give up, and he gets his teeth into the case, as the “Over The Hill Gang” gets away with robbery after robbery.
Tucker manages to start to build a relationship with Jewel all the while committing these crimes that she doesn’t know about. She is also quite willing not to try very hard to find out what Tucker is up to when he calls from distant spots at all hours, or about his past.
The period feel of the movie is quite good. It seems like it’s 1981. But what has gone on before 1981 in Tucker’s life is an extremely slow, and not in depth, reveal until the very end of the film. It is very much a heist film, but a low-key one, and there are many smiles along the way.
Of the partners, Waits has far more to do. He has a couple of great speeches in his small part, including one hilarious turn about why he hates Christmas. Waits is of course far better known as a singer, but he has a long string of quirky acting roles, and he is more than up to the challenge here.
The plot of the film is quite simple, although it keeps your curiosity high, but it is really the performances and the dialogue that carry the day. It is hard for dialogue to be both authentic and poetic, but Lowery has managed that trick here. The script also has a paucity that allows the three main leads plenty of space to do the hardest and best thing, which is to act while not speaking.
The 68-year-old Spacek has been a consistently working actor, but hasn’t been in many films of late, and that is to our loss. She remarkably looks her age while still looking just the same as she always has. Her winsome smile and light laugh are a treasure. There is a twinkle in the eyes of both Redford and Spacek that can be revealing but at the same time make you feel like something is being hidden, if that makes any sense at all.
Redford has the hardest job of all here, to make you believe that he is just an amiable fellow who wants to harm no one, when of course he is an unrepentant serial robber who just can’t stop. He truly is likeable in the film, even as you get to know more and more about the true nature of his life journey. He makes you lightly chuckle on numerous occasions, and those he comes across in the film are universally charmed.
The film does have a bit of a hard time figuring out how to finish. I am someone who staunchly believes that most films have about three too many scenes at the end, and I was sort of in that boat as I left the theater. But as I reflected, I don’t know if I could have stopped it sooner. That does not provide any spoiler, by the way.
I should not leave out the score by Daniel Hart. Music is not used relentlessly in this film. Just like other aspects of the fine movie, it is sparse, but smart, and there are a couple of perfectly used tunes at just the right time.
This film exceeded my expectations, which were by no means low. In just 93 minutes it is an atmospheric, witty, fascinating, and well-acted film. If Redford is riding off into the sunrise (you’ll get it if you see it), then he has done himself proud.