Review: The Old Man & the Gun

Director David Lowery’s last film A Ghost Story (2017) showed the torment of death, so it’s fitting that his follow-up The Old Man & the Gun celebrates the joy of life – whether robbing a bank or pursuing a criminal.

Based on a true story about a career crook, the film follows a serial bank robber and prison escape artist Forrest Tucker portrayed by Robert Redford. 

Redford had originally stated that this crime caper was going to be his last film – but has since reneged these claims. Perhaps he can’t stop himself from going back to acting – like the character he portrays who loves the thrill of the crime, always itching for that adrenaline fix.

The film fizzes in to 1981 America, cinematographer Joe Anderson has shot with 16mm film and its grainy richness evokes the All-American-Apple-Pie nostalgia of the era.

The comedic tone of the movie matches the attitude of the protagonist. The bank clerks each relay to the police how much of gentlemen Tucker is during the various stick-ups and how happy he seemed during the process.

It becomes a pleasure to watch each of these heists occur, this is a feel-good movie.

Redford’s Hollywood charm extends to his seduction of Sissy Spacek’s character Jewel. He romances her effortlessly, with his wry sense of humour. He’s a slick old dog.

Early in the film, he breaks down his modus operandi to her. His method is simple, it involves walking up to the clerk, asking to speak to management, pulling out his gun and asking them to fill up his bag with bank notes.

Only, he is softly spoken and complimentary throughout the process – he asks how the teller is feeling, and in a standout moment in the film, he comforts a crying bank teller who confesses that it is her first day on the job, he jests: “Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

Ironically, Forrest becomes somewhat of a trustworthy character, in the sense that as an audience member you realise that he is not going to hurt anyone. A detective remarks that he believes that Forrest has never used his gun.

Casey Affleck portrays John Hunt, a police detective on the trail of Forrest. Hunt is a small time detective, he’s rough around the edges and a grouchy family man. The flipside to Forrest.

Affleck puts in a naturalistic hum-drum performance, not dissimilar from the other characters he often portrays, but it’s serviceable and equally likeable.

When Affleck is superseded from the case by the FBI, his young daughter says in a sweet way that they won’t catch Forrest because they’re not as good as him at policing and that this makes her happy because she notices how much happier her father is when he is pursuing the fugitive.

She then states that she hopes that even he will never catch Forrest, so that he remains happy. This notion of enjoying the thrill of the chase rather than the result is the central theme of this film.

The film tends to sag when the story breaks off from the crime plotline. The romance with Jewel illuminates more tender shades of Redford’s character, so it services the plot but, like Forrest, there is a desire to return to the heist plotline.

The Old Man & the Gun is enjoyable, it won’t win any major awards and it won’t split your sides but it’s a strong picture from a promising writer/director.

HOME is screening the film until December 13. Tickets here.

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