An old man walks into a bank.
He’s wearing a beige trench coat, a suit with a non-threatening yellow striped tie and brown hat. He’s carrying a battered leather case and has a hearing aid.
He smiles at you and, very politely, informs you this is a robbery.
And since he has the easy charm and devil-may-care grin of Robert Redford, you comply.
The Old Man & the Gun is the unlikely true tale of Forrest Tucker (Redford), a lifelong criminal and prison escape artist. It’s an extraordinary story of a man who always chased excitement, an unorthodox life that he lived on his terms — even if that meant numerous stints in prison.
Based on a 2003 New Yorker profile by David Grann about Forrest, the film is directed by indie darling David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and also stars Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Elisabeth Moss and Casey Affleck.
Set in the 1970s, by the time we meet Forrest, he’s 70 years old and fresh out of San Quentin state prison, and he’s already back to his thieving ways.
He’s not a man who seems to care about the money he’s stealing, for him it’s the thrill of the planning, the robbery and the getaway. He commits a string of these small stick-ups across the US, targeting smaller institutions with lax security, sometimes with his partners Teddy (Glover) and Waller (Waits).
Around this time, he also meets and strikes up a relationship with Jewel (Spacek), a divorcee with a love of horses.
Eventually, Forrest’s robberies come to the attention of detective John Hunt (Affleck) who notices the baffling trend of old men hold-ups where even the victims seem to like this “gentleman”.
While most heist movies focus on some thrilling cat and mouse chase between the crim and the person trying to catch them, The Old Man & the Gun is much more concerned with character work, of spending delightfully quiet moments with Forrest and Jewel.
And Redford and Spacek have such a natural chemistry that you could watch them sitting opposite each other at a diner for an hour and not tire of it. Those are the kind of subtle performances you get from two veteran actors who know exactly what they’re doing, and a talented director who knows to let them.
Lowery is known for being able to tap into emotional truths without obvious bells and whistles, and The Old Man & the Gun is no different, eschewing melodrama for simple but effective storytelling.
The movie also has a distinct vintage look, influenced by the crime capers of the era it’s set in — your mind will wander back to the likes of Bullitt or The French Connection.
There’s something poetic in Redford choosing Forrest as his final role, a fitting retirement send-off. Redford too has had a phenomenal life and career and the parallels between the two men are not lost on a movie audience, especially when the film uses archival photos and clips of a younger Redford standing in as a younger Forrest — there were actually audible “awws” in my screening.
It’s a great capper to a great legacy. There’s a sense of melancholy about it and, with it, a sense of goodwill.
The Old Man & the Gun is undoubtedly a crowd-pleaser, a low-key heist movie and character piece filled with charismatic stars and great performances. There’s nothing here that’s going to vex or perplex you, and you’ll walk out of the cinema happy and satisfied.
The Old Man & the Gun is in cinemas from today.