The Old Man & the Gun has charming, nostalgic appeal. Originally a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann, based on a true story, The Old Man & the Gun follows Forrest Tucker. Seventy-nine years old, having broken out of prison multiple times, Tucker is a confirmed bank robber who loves his work. Amazingly, most of his targets handing over the bank’s cash compliment Tucker on his polite, pleasant manner.
We meet Tucker in the early 1980s joyfully robbing yet another bank. He cleverly escapes the police chase, and subsequently becomes involved with Jewel, a horse ranch owner who inadvertently helps Tucker, introducing himself as Bob. They relax into a charming relationship. Texas detective John Hunt becomes obsessed with catching Tucker who taunts him. Meantime, Tucker reconnects with his Over-the-Hill gang Teddy Green and Waller to plan another heist.
At this year’s Telluride Film Festival, screenplay writer/director David Lowery described The Old Man & the Gun as a love letter to Robert Redford who plays Tucker. Indeed, it is, with a role perfect for Redford’s gifts and age. Redford says this is his last film as an actor, that he wants to go out on an upbeat note. I hope this is not his last screen performance because his scallywag, bemused smile, the glint in his eyes and his charismatic presence in endearing outlaw roles are unique and thoroughly appealing. The supporting cast includes the relaxed, wonderful Sissy Spacek as Jewel. Casey Affleck plays policeman Hunt, Danny Glover and Tom Waits the two criminal colleagues. The trio of Glover, Waits and Redford is a dream combination, each character hinting at an intriguing back story, never fully explained.
Lowery wanted to capture the period technically, and so he shot on super-16 mm film instead of opting for a colder digital look. Adopting a 1970s style, he had cinematographer Joe Anderson use zooms with older lenses and hard lighting on a grey, white and primary color palette. The art direction adds to the ambiance: the cars, furniture, diners where they eat and the music. Clothes contribute as well including Tucker’s vibrant blue suit; Jewel’s loose, casual clothes; and increasing color in Hunt’s outfits as he closes in. These choices and the delicate handling of the characters immerse us in that world emotionally. It’s the feel-good film of the year exactly when we need one.