Film Review – The Old Man & the Gun
The Old Man & the Gun
The Old Man & the Gun is the newest film from director and screenwriter David Lowery. Lowery has taken the true story of bank robber Forrest Tucker (based on a New Yorker article by David Grann) and molded it into a delightful and charming film set in the early 1980’s which is rumored to be Robert Redford’s final film.
David Lowery’s last film, A Ghost Story, while beautifully filmed, did not have a story that resonated and was plagued by the need to fast-forward through much of the film to see if it was going anywhere. In other words, it was not my cup of tea. While the trailers for The Old Man & the Gun made it look promising, memories of my experience with A Ghost Story made me apprehensive about seeing this film. Shortly after the film began, any doubts I had about what type of film Lowery had made were gone as the film is truly one of my favorites of the year.
Robert Redford plays Forrest Tucker, an older gentleman who loves to rob banks. If you see this film, you will understand that “love” is not an understatement. It is like some of us have a calling to be a doctor or work with animals, Tucker’s joy in life is robbing banks. We meet him in the early 1980’s outside of the Dallas area, robbing a bank. He wears no costume, just a trench coat, a briefcase, and a hat are his bank-robbing duds. He carries a gun, but he does not brandish it, but politely asks to have the money and then walks out. With some switching of getaway cars and a police scanner constantly in his ear, he quickly gets away with it. On the way out of the area, Tucker meets a woman, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whose truck has broken down on the side of the highway. He uses this opportunity to stop and try to help, but also as a distraction while the police race past him. This meeting is the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a kindling of a romance between Tucker and Jewel.
The other story juxtaposed with Tucker’s is that of Dallas Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck). He is in line at a bank when it is robbed by Tucker, although no one in the bank including Hunt knew it was robbed until after Tucker left. Hunt is now on the case, though it seems this is mostly because he is fascinated with Tucker’s methods and criminal history.
When Tucker decides to rob more complicated and high-profile banks, he enlists his friends Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover). They seemed to have worked together on and off for many years doing robberies, and they are all in their senior years, but there is something that still draws them to the rush of the crime and the rewards.
This film is so much more than a quasi-biopic of the last years of Forrest Tucker. The film endeavors to inspire, not to commit crimes, but to live life to the fullest and on your terms. There is an unapologetic drive in Tucker to rob banks. While his motivation is never put into words, it is not for the financial rewards. He lives in a modest house in the Dallas area, drives an older car, and has a lot of money stashed in his floorboards. He is not showy or a braggart, some of the many qualities that appeal to Jewel and makes him a character you can root for in the film.
It is this lust or drive to rob banks that is Tucker’s downfall, but it has caught up to him many times in the past. He has escaped from prison several times and vows to do it again if he is ever caught. He somehow does not come off as boastful, as he rarely shares his true calling and even when he tells Jewel, she has a hard time believing it. Tucker also tries to redeem himself from his past, trying to do a good deed for Jewel. Unfortunately, bank robbing is also like an addiction to Tucker, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. While he is not violent, he still causes harm to those involved in the robberies, his family, and to Jewel.
The film is filled with the colors of the 1980s, and the quality of the film has a graininess to it, evoking films from that period. This gives it a nostalgic quality. Lowery also borrows from at least one or two of Redford’s previous films during a flashback scene to his many prison escapes, as well as implementing old photos of Redford as Detective Hunt tracks him down.
David Lowery has taken this compelling true story and turned it into a triumph of storytelling. The film leverages Forrest Tucker’s last hurrah into a life lesson on living life to the fullest and damn the consequences. Even Detective Hunt smiled widely at what this man was able to accomplish. However, living this existence does not leave those you love with a happier life. Tucker has learned this over and over, and while he never stops trying to make his personal life happier and more normal, he inevitably falls to his victim to his urges. This film is not to be missed for its storytelling, its actors, or the way in which this film is shot. If this is indeed Robert Redford’s last film, he has ended his acting career on a high note, one that will hopefully bring him critical and peer praise along with Sissy Spacek. The Old Man & the Gun will undoubtedly make my 2018 top ten films list.