Film Review: The Old Man & the Gun

True story of an elderly bank robber on a crime spree is an undemanding vehicle for Robert Redford.
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A showcase for Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun is drawn from one of those offbeat New Yorker profiles about soft and cuddly, stranger-than-fiction eccentrics. This time it's Forrest Tucker, a recalcitrant bank robber who gets away with his crimes in part by charming his victims.

A cinema icon for over 50 years, Redford can't help imbuing his role with the past. Some viewers will see Tucker as an older version of con men in The Sting or The Hot Rock or any other number of movies in which Redford played lovable rascals. Here he's a good-looking guy in his 70s, still natty in suits and fedoras, friendly, even jaunty, playing to the audience with hints of grins, his eyes twinkling like icicles.

Director David Lowery's softball screenplay follows Tucker on both solo jobs and with his elderly team (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), kvetching like they're in an even more laid-back Going in Style. Getting almost as much screen time is Casey Affleck's Houston cop John Hunt, dogged and soft-spoken and in what was for the time an unusual marriage.

On the run from cops, Tucker befriends Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow who owns a ranch. Soon they're exchanging telling glances in a low-key diner. She will later throw Tucker a lifeline as the cops close in.

Spacek, of course, brings her own career to the movie—Jewel might be Holly from Badlands, all grown up and out of prison. Whatever her past, Spacek fully inhabits her character here. She performs with a lack of inhibition that Redford would never attempt. There's an energy, or at least a spark, in her scenes that's largely missing from the rest of the movie.

One way to watch The Old Man & the Gun is as a primer on acting styles, from Tom Waits' shambling shtick (honed from his years as a singer of tall tales) to the flailing hands and grimaces Elisabeth Moss uses as Tucker's neglected daughter. As for Affleck, he slows down his gait and swallows his lines until he begins to resemble wallpaper.

At this stage in his career, Redford's performances are always about himself: his looks, his outlooks, his body of work. In J.C. Chandor's dead-end All Is Lost, even as a Marvel archvillain in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Redford comments on his past roles more than he acts. Maybe he relates to Tucker as someone who managed to steal a career while working on jobs beneath his skills.

Lowery, an effective director on last year's A Ghost Story with Affleck, seems tentative here. Long driving sequences in cars, tight close-ups on faces, the post-crime focus on bank tellers and managers, Daniel Hart's lush score, even the credits font all reach back to Redford's successes in the ’60s and ’70s. It was a period with some great movies, but also pretentious bombs like The Chase, inexplicably cited here.

The Old Man & the Gun is never less than pleasant, and Redford's fans might even find it resonant. Others may think it's cute but underwhelming, sweet-natured but forgettable. There are worse ways to spend your time.