Writer and Director: David Lowery
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
The gentleman thief is one of cinema’s oldest tropes, men charming their way through a series of audacious crimes while seemingly protected by their unsuspecting demeanour. Often, these go hand-in-hand with a love story, pulling the hero back towards the straight-and-narrow, think Peter O’Toole forced to turn suave cat burglar in How to Steal a Million his heart lost to Audrey Hepburn, or Cary Grant’s retired criminal who charmingly seduced Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Now, in his final film, Robert Redford must decide if Sissy Spacek is worth ending his bank-robbing career for.
In August 1981, the police start to connect a series of robberies at small banks across several American states, the culmination of a two-year crime spree by a group of old men. Known in the media as the “Over-the-Hill” Gang, a light-hearted cat and mouse game ensues as Detective John Hunt attempts to track down Forrest Tucker and his fellow pensioners. When a chance roadside encounter throws Forrest into the path of Jewel, another life opens-up before him, but as his past comes to light can he give it all up for the woman he loves?
Written and directed by David Lowery, The Old Man and the Gunis a fairly gentle film that draws on the classic comedies of the 1940s and 1950s. Its sedate pacing and cost feel won’t shake-up the cop movie but there is something quite endearing about its easy Sunday afternoon quality. Based on a semi-true story, the film is arguably less remarkable for its approach than for its leading man – it’s all about Redford.
As a carefully tailored Forrest, Redford exudes a cheeky charm as we see him walk into a montage of banks and politely ask for money. He’s unhurried, kind, even delightful company, loving the thrill but ensuring minimal danger to the public and staff. A twinkly-eyed Redford illuminates the film, appealing to the audience as easily as he draws-in everyone else around him, while still finding time to take his new love interest on a series of dates at a local diner. He tells her the truth from the start, but she doesn’t believe him, bringing her under his spell, the old smoothie!
As his counterpoint, Casey Affleck barely gets above a low drone as Detective Hunt, dour and relatively unengaging by comparison. In fairness to Affleck, he has next to nothing to do but appear to connect some pegs on a map and be a devoted family man. The only spark of life occurs when cop and robber finally come face-to-face in a diner corridor, a scene full of knowing bemusement, but, as with the crimes themselves, Redford rightly has the best of it throughout.
Love interest Spacek also has relatively little development, a widow with a nice hideout falling easily for Forrest’s charm and only occasionally thinking anything is amiss. She’s independent and smart but unable to see beneath his well-established persona. Spacek and Redford have a good chemistry though, implying a relationship built on a cautious worldly-wise approach to an autumn-years romance.
Lowery has solid control of the tone, it never becomes too serious or too farcical, but there is a jauntiness to The Old Man and the Gun which keeps it motoring forward at a steady pace. The intertwined love and robbery narratives work fairly well, and although we never see a lot of the action, the execution of the crime is fascinating as much for the peaks of excitement as the insight into Forrest’s need to steal.
With a nicely redolent 1980s style both in Joe Anderson’s grainy cinematography and Annell Brodeur’s costumes, plaudits must be reserved for Redford’s removal disguise and Affleck’s seemingly real full moustaches that help to set the era. The Old Man and the Gun is pleasant enough but really it is a chance for Redford to say goodbye to the screen with one last mega-watt performance. As Forrest’s true history is revealed, a few scenes and photographs from early Redford films are part of the mix, a tribute to this screen legend who takes his final bow… at least until he wants a comeback.
Release Date 7 December 2018 | Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures