2018-10-25 / Around Town

Redford Charms in What Might be His Swan Song

FILM REVIEW
By Loren King


‘The Old Man and the Gun’ starring Robert Redford is playing at the Jane Pickens Theater. ‘The Old Man and the Gun’ starring Robert Redford is playing at the Jane Pickens Theater. Robert Redford has said “The Old Man and the Gun” is his last film. If that’s so, what a way to close a career.

The “old man” at the center of his new film is Forrest Tucker, a nattily dressed, gentlemanly bank robber who never uses the pistol hidden under his overcoat. With his craggy but still boyishly handsome face under a fedora, Tucker recalls some of Redford’s iconic roles. He's an aged Sundance Kid with a slower swagger and a twinkle in his eye, occasionally flashing that gleaming Hubbell Gardner smile.

Writer-director David Lowery (“A Ghost Story,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) based the script on David Grann’s New Yorker magazine article about real-life bank robber Tucker and his elderly accomplices Teddy and Waller (played in the film by Danny Glover and Tom Waits), whose string of holdups in the 1980s earned them the nicknamed “The Over the Hill Gang.”


Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. Loren King is an arts and entertainment writer whose work appears regularly in The Boston Globe and other publications. The movie opens in 1981 as the genial Tucker robs a Texas bank, walking out with a leather briefcase full of cash. He’s supposed to be 74 but seems older. (Redford is actually 82, but still spry). Tucker then dodges police by helping a woman whose truck has broken down on the highway. They go to a diner while her vehicle is being fixed. She’s a widow named Jewel and played by Sissy Spacek with a luminosity that also echoes a career of down-to-earth, gentle but tough heroines.

Their easy relationship unfolds as slowly, as gracefully, as Tucker’s continued crime spree through the small towns and backroads of the Southwest. Lowery’s cinematic style is a throwback to character driven films of the ‘70s. It’s slow-paced and rich, with mood music by frequent Lowery collaborator Daniel Hart and the burnished cinematography of documentary veteran Joe Anderson.

Rather than the action sequences one might expect in a heist movie, “The Old Man and the Gun” revels in the little moments, like Waller’s gem of a story from his youth told over a beer in a bar, or Jewel’s momentary excitement as she becomes an accomplice in a theft. In another low-key scene, she silently puts a kettle on the stove and prepares a cup of tea, with Spacek’s expressive face telling us everything we need to know about Jewel's acceptance of what she’s getting into by falling for Tucker.

John Hunt (Casey Affleck, who starred in Lowery’s last two movies) is the Dallas cop who happens to be in a bank one day with his son and witnesses a Tucker robbery. A bit of cat-and-mouse ensues, with the scruffy, likable Hunt determined to capture the elusive Tucker.

Hunt travels to San Francisco, where he meets the daughter (a great cameo by Elisabeth Moss) that Tucker most likely doesn’t even know he has and discovers that Tucker once escaped from Alcatraz Island in a boat. Flashbacks, treating the audience to stills of Redford over the years, reveal Tucker’s life of non-violent crime starting when he was a kid fleeing reform school. He was caught many times and sent to prison but often managed to figure out how to escape.

Hunt is dogged but can’t figure what motivates the old man and the movie never tries to explain why the laconic Tucker enjoys robbing banks.

Without overstating anything, “The Old Man and the Gun” is about the passage of time and how people age. Watching Redford as a man who resists fading into the sunset puts a low-key spin on crime and cowboy mythology. Much of this movie’s quiet charm is how Tucker’s sweet mystery remains hidden beneath that megawatt smile.

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