Robert Redford is a national treasure of American cinema. His career is impressive, full of great performances in films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973), Ordinary People (1980) and Out of Africa (1985). Now apparently, Redford is retiring! And he’s decided to bow out with The Old Man and the Gun, but it feels a little bit of a disappointment and perhaps Redford isn’t going out with a bang, but a whimper.
Although, there’s nothing particularly bad with The Old Man and the Gun, there’s noting that makes it noteworthy or stand out. It feels like it has such potential to be a great crime classic, but it’s lacking something. As Godard once said, ”All you need to make a picture is a girl and a gun”, but a film also needs character development and depth. The Old Man and the Gun, lacks these qualities.
Directed by David Lowery, (who also wrote the script), one couldn’t be blamed for going into the film with high hopes. Lowery’s A Ghost Story was an under appreciated masterpiece, and his remake of Disney classic Pete’s Dragon was a highly enjoyable romp (it also featured Robert Redford). However, Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun feels a little too safe and predictable, plodding along at an uneven pace until it reaches a dragged out climax that feels like it doesn’t quite know how it wants to end. The elements for a great true crime drama (just like the ones they used to make) are all there.
In fact, The Old Man & the Gun is based on a true story which was reported by David Grann in The New Yorker, under the same title, in 2003. It’s the tale of a OAP bank robber and escape artist named Forrest Tucker, who, in 1981, launches a spree of robberies. Tucker worked with a pair of elderly partners; the trio became known as the Over-the-Hill Gang and gained some widespread notoriety.
In the film, Forrest begins a relationship with a woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who he meets as he’s fleeing the scene of one of his crimes. Of course, all great crime dramas need a good-hearted female character to point out right from wrong, and somehow save the central male character. The scenes between Spacek and Redford are the highlights of the film, but Spacek’s character feels very under developed, and under used. As the film develops, her character becomes less involved with the action and becomes simply there to exist for Forrest’s benefit and convenience.
Aside from having to juggle a relationship and a dangerous hobby, Forrest has some unwanted attention from a local police detective named John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Hunt becomes obsessed with the case, and is lured by Forrest into a cat-and-mouse game, however Hunt doesn’t seem like a worthy antagonist and his character seems to pointless. Affleck mumbles through his lines of dialogue for a great deal of his screen time, that the viewer may wish that they had the hearing aid that Redford’s character uses.
Of course, there are some positive aspects of this film. Redford is a delight to watch, charming and sophisticated (the certainly don’t make film stars like Redford anymore) and it is nice to see Danny Glover and Tom Waits make an appearance (both of which are more under used than Spacek is). And when the film let’s its hair down and stops taking itself so darn seriously, then it becomes a lot more fun to watch.
The film just felt very small, considering it is a film starring Robert Redford. The action scenes are few and far between, and when they do unfold, they seem a little rushed and forced. There are moments of great cinema: for example there is a montage of Forrest’s escapes from prison and a car cash with the police as a boot full of money spills out in slow motion; all of which hint at what the film could have been.
Overall, this is a film that won’t offend anyone, and a film that would make a perfect accompaniment on Father’s day (grandfathers will adore this film); but it just seems a waste of talent and a great story. If this is Redford’s last performance, then its a shame that it was in a film that was just slightly above average. Yes, it’s funny, enjoyable, and very paint-by-numbers with an easy to follow narrative (just in case Grandpa falls asleep for a few minutes), but it’s just not a remarkable film and that’s what it needed to be.