“The Old Man & the Gun”  Movie Review


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     Writer/Director David Lowery takes the reigns on what will be legendary actor Robert Redford’s final screen performance with “The Old Man & the Gun”, a late 70s to early 80s period piece telling the true story of prison escape artist and serial bank robber Forrest Tucker.  Based on a New Yorker article written by David Grann, Lowery brings Forrest’s exploits to the screen as a sort of throw back to the era in which movies didn’t feature complex camera movements or flashy action sequences to tell this type of story.  The “A Ghost Story” filmmaker utilizes a series of long zooms and pans, along with wide scenic shots, and extreme closeups that accentuate every crevice and wrinkle within Redford’s worn face for the visuals that rely more so on the importance of situational dialogue than much of what we typically see today.  The result is a notable and worthwhile send off for the long time thespian. 

     When you read the synopsis for “The Old Man & the Gun”, the image of a classic cops and robbers shoot’em up may immediately come to mind, but “Heat” this is not.  Instead, Forrest Tucker (Redford) walks into the bank with the kind and carefree mannerisms you might expect from Clark Kent.  Adorned in a suit and fedora, and often a mustache as part of a minor disguise, Forrest smartly walks up to a teller or manager and carries on a conversation likely similar to someone doing an actual transaction.  He hands the teller a note with instructions, sometimes flashing a gun hidden in his coat, and proceeds to smile during the entire act, all the while comforting and encouraging the teller before exiting without anyone noticing what just took place.  

     Forrest works with two accomplices, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), the former functioning as the get away driver and the later as a look out inside the bank.  The trio operates from city to city, carefully choosing the banks they see as the most vulnerable, as well as the timing of the response from local police which Forrest constantly monitors via a scanner he normally listens to through an ear piece that seems to be dangling about during the entire film.  Eventually, the police do take notice, with one detective in particular, John Hunt (Casey Affleck) making the case his personal mission after actually being in one of the banks that is robbed without noticing until the manager announces the crime had just occurred.  

     In true early 80s style, Hunt constructs a push pin map that indicates a potential pattern and clue as to where the newly labeled Over the Hill Gang will strike next.  And as Forrest finds himself falling for a Texas woman, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), he happens upon on the side of the road shortly after committing a bank robbery, a series of unique coincidences allow for the fledgling criminal and the detective hunting him to cross paths under unique and memorable circumstances.  The only question is whether or not Hunt can predict the next target before the gang moves on.

     Affleck is his ever dependable self, delivering a brooding performance at times, but also showing a very human side of police work during several interactions with his wife and two children.  Spacek is also excellent as a struggling farmer and single woman who sees something genuine in Forrest, even though she’s aware of his chosen profession.  And the way Redford plays the sixteen time convict, there’s plenty to like.  He’s not exactly the stereotypical bank robber after all with his overly polite persona and ability to lull someone into a state of calm even when committing what is considered one of the most daring and violent crimes a person can do in this country.  The character is well carved out, utilizing past photos and footage of Redford to recreate the multitude of ways Forrest came up with to escape from prison, including an unprecedented exit from San Quentin in which he built the boat that would take him from the prison shore to the opposite shore only to disappear before authorities could catch up to him.

     Lowery’s script works wonders for the material, featuring several scenes that illicit laughs from the audience, while also succeeding in fleshing out several of the supporting players.  A scene in which Waller, flanked by Forrest and Teddy at a bar, describes why he doesn’t like Christmas gives a glimpse into these men and what motivates them to continue their crime spree even when they become aware the FBI and every local law enforcement agency is on their heels.  But this is clearly Redford’s movie and the camera remains squarely focused on him from scene to scene, ensuring no one is in position to steal the thunder from an actor who has certainly earned a rousing farewell after a film career spanning nearly six decades.  GRADE: B+