Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is 70 years old and robs banks across America. He never gets caught because he goes so politely and cordially that the bank employees don’t want to report him. Forrest is often joined by his friends Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), and has started seeing a woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek). Life is good, except that a detective named John Hunt (Casey Affleck) has decided he is going to find out who the mysterious robber is and catch him.
The first thing that has to be said about ‘The Old Man & the Gun’ is that some actors just have a warmth and charm that totally sucks you in and wins you over in a matter of minutes. So it goes with Robert Redford’s Forrest and Sissy Spacek’s Jewel who, after the former has robbed his first bank, and goes to lunch with the latter having unsuccessfully ‘helped’ her with her car (he’s really just poking his head under the hood to avoid police cars driving by), have you totally invested in the film after three short scenes that amount to five to ten minutes.
It’s a simple story (and short, given the film’s running length is a tidy 93 minutes) with a sweet romance plot and fun cat-and-mouse structure. There is plenty of funny, snappy dialogue, and aside from Redford and Spacek, the film also benefits from the natural charms of Danny Glover and Tom Waits. Waits shines in particular and has some great moments which include relating a story to his guy friends about why he hates Christmas.
Meanwhile, Casey Affleck is cast well as the movie’s antagonist. Just as Redford’s role can be read as a reflection or even accumulation of his past ones, so too could Affleck’s character be seen as an extension of the cop he played in ‘Gone Baby Gone’, older and more jaded. Notably, the presentation of Redford’s Tucker versus Affleck’s Hunt is integrated into the cinematography, whereby the latter is shot in grey and dull tones – at least that is until his life becomes rejuvenated at the prospect of catching a thief – while the colours encompassing Forrest are warm, soft tans, yellows and oranges.
John Hunt is never presented as a bad guy, just a bored one. By way of extension, the film as a whole never gets overly dark or serious. It’s a jaunty story after all, and it’s not like we’re dealing with a drug dealer or serial killer. Forrest’s motive for robbing banks seems to be to have fun and feel young, and it’s hard to fault him for that. Later on, we do learn about the character’s negative traits but the film refuses to go dark or gloomy. Forrest could be read as an addict or tragic figure, but the film simply won’t allow it. Its cheeky presentation of the story insists that the audience simply has a laugh and enjoys the ride.
While it would appear to be similar to ‘Going in Style’ and ‘King of Thieves’ (also based on a true story) in that it is about senior robbers, the comparisons stop there. While those films almost solely rely on the charisma of the cast, there’s great skill in David Lowery’s script and direction, with ‘The Old Man & the Gun’ following his exceptional ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and ‘A Ghost Story.’ He never forces the laughs or drama, allowing moments between characters to hang, even pulling the camera away from scenes to let them breathe. This skilful directing coupled with the winsome performances and light-hearted tone make for a thoroughly enjoyable film.