You may want to catch Robert Redford in David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun. The eighty-two-year-old Redford has announced this will be his last movie role, and if this turns out to be true, it’s a fitting departure from acting. (He hasn’t said he’s giving up directing.) He’s provided a demonstration of a star-powered performance and presence that you don’t find in American movies anymore. That’s because there aren’t movie stars like Redford anymore.
This rather charming little movie wouldn’t work, probably wouldn’t exist, without Redford. He’s had important assistance from the director and the other actors, but effectively, he’s the picture. Its easy charm and its personality are largely Redford’s.
The Old Man and the Gun is the “mostly true” (in the words of an on-screen text) story of the unusual exploits of Forrest Tucker, a seventy-something, nearly life-long serial bank robber and prison escapee. (Its inspiration is a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann.) In the movie’s somewhat amplified and embellished telling, it wasn’t just Tucker’s longevity and successes that singularized his criminal career. It was his MO and demeanor. Redford’s Tucker quietly enters a bank, politely inquires about opening an account, and responds to tellers’ inquiries about the kind by revealing a concealed gun, and saying “This kind.” Lowery and Redford’s Tucker has never fired that gun, and he comports himself with such generous affability – at one point, he assures a very nervous new employee that she’s doing a fine job – that afterwards, people recall his friendly gentleness as much as anything else.
The role was made for Redford. It’s almost as if he’s been building toward it for over a half-century. It gives him ample space to employ the deftly economical approach that’s been a trademark for all those years and he infuses the part with the charm and, yes, glamour he’s so often mustered. As a star, Redford hasn’t usually tried to impart disturbing challenges or inner conflict, but what he’s done works, never better than here.
Lowery’s movie is really a quirky, congenially ironic police procedural. There isn’t a lot to it, if you think too much about it, and it takes its time. A lot of that moderate pace is taken up with Forrest’s burgeoning relationship with an independent-minded widow (an expert Sissy Spacek) and much of the rest follows the increasingly engrossed pursuit of a Dallas cop improbably named – as in real life – John Hunt (a sympathetically low-key Casey Affleck). And in between Redford confers and plots with his two partners (Tom Waits and Danny Glover providing character color and “business.”)
Old Man doesn’t finally amount to much but as a demonstration of very adroit use of modest but engaging material it’s a winner.