As far as final films go, you’d be hard pressed to fault Robert Redford for choosing The Old Man and the Gun as his way to bow out. Not only is it a rich and unusually energetic lead role for an older actor, it also serves as something of a Redford retrospective, reminding you of his greatest hits while providing him with a great new character to leave his mark on. It’s a very gentle film, director David Lowery moving back into the more conventional, family friendly territory of Pete’s Dragon after the brilliantly surreal but difficult A Ghost Story, and proves a lovely way to spend 90 minutes.
Based on a ridiculous true story, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a septuagenarian who, in the early 80s, robbed dozens of banks with a similarly aged crew. Though his partners in crime (played by Tom Waits and Danny Glover) are in it for the money, Forrest – a lifelong thief and 16-time prison escapee – is simply stealing for the sake of it, to feel alive. Pursued by Dallas PD detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) – himself feeling his age as he turns 40 – Forrest’s spree leads him to Jewel (Sissy Spacek), the first person he’s met who makes him consider slowing down.
Redford and Spacek’s scenes are absolutely the highlight of the film, and you end up wishing there could be more of their dates and fewer heists. They share a sparkling chemistry, each one of them a fountain of endless charisma, and feel so natural on screen together that it’s a genuine wonder that they don’t have decades of history as co-stars (this is the first time they’ve shared a movie). Redford gives a joyous and upbeat performance, for the most part, but lets notes of melancholy seep in, especially as his criminality starts to catch up with him in more tangible ways.
As an ode to Redford, Old Man and the Gun has the ‘70s in its soul, both in its visuals and its pacing. Imbued with a soothing, grainy shot-on-film glow and packed with beautiful uses of colour and light, this is cinema as time machine, the old-school appeal bolstered by its unfussy storytelling. Running at a fleet 90 minutes, Lowery’s script doesn’t feels like it’s in any sort of hurry, but never lets this luxurious tone descend into noticeable slowness. The heist scenes are executed with understated skill, and there are some highly enjoyable montages of robberies and Forrest’s escapes.
Affleck’s subplot is left as rather slight by the focus on jolliness, and there’s clearly been quite a lot cut out of the police side of the story (John David Washington, in his third cop role of the year, and Keith Carradine barely feature). Still, he impresses as a man both content with his life – his conversations with his young kids feel particularly authentic – and slightly frustrated by the station at which he’s found himself in. Affleck and Redford share very few scenes, but a meeting between the two is one of the most gripping scenes of the whole film.
For Redford fans, Old Man and the Gun is absolutely essential, an unchallenging swansong that reminds you just how powerful a cinematic figure he was and is. Lowery strikes the exact right tone for this quaintest of stories, and though it might have been a better film as a pure Redford-Spacek romcom, this is a sweet little caper that entertains and charms from start to finish.