The Old Man & the Gun, rated PG-13
Starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, John David Washington, Keith Carradine, Elisabeth Moss
Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Texas filmmaker David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun is a beautiful, soulful film, in which stars Robert Redford, Casey Affleck and Sissy Spacek are (as always) wonderful. The picture concerns the (mostly) true story of Forrest Tucker (Redford), an aging outlaw who has successfully escaped from prison 18 times in his criminal career. In the early 1980s (at which point Tucker is well into his 70s), he embarks on a bank-robbing spree across Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri in the most polite and gentlemanly way possible. He has help in the form of two accomplices, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), and his charm and easy-going attitude help him remain at-large.
Dallas detective John Hunt (Affleck) is hot on Tucker’s trail, hoping desperately to catch him before another law enforcement agency beats him to it. As Tucker continues his spree, he also falls in love with Jewel (Spacek), who lives alone on a farm with little but her horses and her memories. Although he doesn’t outright tell her about his every scheme, there’s no pretense between them – clearly, Tucker does something rather dangerous with his life, and that’s part of his appeal. There’s a wonderful, wordless sequence in which Redford and Spacek are in a jewelry store, and he quietly leads her out with a bracelet on her wrist without paying. In this moment, she experiences his high of having stolen and gotten away with it. But as the excitement dissipates, she gives him a look. They have to go back and return it – and better yet, she wants Redford to actually pay for it. It’s a sweet and playful scene – one in which both characters acknowledge their differences, and yet we also see plainly why they want to be around one another.
Affleck’s Hunt is a perfect counterpoint for Tucker. He’s a family man (the film spends a heartening amount of time focusing on Hunt’s relationship with his kids), and though he’s consumed by his dogged pursuit of Tucker, he also comes to realize the cost of living this way. Midway through the film, he travels to San Francisco to meet Tucker’s daughter, Dorothy (Elisabeth Moss), who doesn’t even remember her father, but knows he’s the one behind the heists. Hunt comes back home from the trip renewed, having seen how Tucker’s life robbed him of having a family – or much of anything, really, besides the basic thrill of living. Hunt isn’t the cop who ultimately catches Tucker in the end, but he comes to value his own life more in the process. It’s a truly satisfying character arc, and Affleck plays it with the same subtlety and believability he brings to all his performances.
If I have a favorite moment from a film full of them, it’s the Redford/Affleck encounter in a diner set to Lola by The Kinks. It’s a terrifically exciting detective-meets-criminal scene, done in the film’s characteristically jovial manner (the whole film, in fact, is like a low-key Heat with regard to its cop vs robber dynamic).
The Old Man & the Gun is brisk, speedy and fun, and sometimes it may seem like it doesn’t have a great deal to say as a film beyond that. But there are quiet, subtle moments beneath the light-hearted surface, particularly when Tucker catches fleeting glimpses of what a normal life looks like. This is a movie that only gives you brief hints of melancholy and regret, which makes the ones that do appear all the more striking.
One such moment comes when Tucker, on the lam from pursuing police, hops in a car with his gun and forces the driver to take off. When he sees she has a young child in the backseat, he ends up dropping them off at a gas station and leaving them behind. Just for a moment, as they disappear in his rearview mirror, we see Tucker consider what he’s missed in life. But for the most part, he just can’t bring himself to engage with the past – not because he’s haunted by it, but perhaps because he’s just not that interested in anything but the thrill of the present.
When the authorities finally catch him, Jewel asks him to not attempt another escape from prison – and he doesn’t. But even as he tries to reform once released, he eventually has to go back to doing what he loves. In a strange way, Tucker is like Jeremy Renner’s character in The Hurt Locker (2009) – no matter how dangerous or irrational his preferred lifestyle may be, he just can’t live an everyday life.
Although there’s a great ending coda to the film, the most moving and defining moment of the picture may come when Tucker, during that same pursuit, rides a horse from Jewel’s ranch calmly as the police approach in the distance. He’s able to check off horse riding from a list of things he hasn’t yet done, just before he’s sent away to jail. Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run the Game plays during this final chase sequence (Lowery’s use of music in this film is impeccable), and it’s a truly moving send-off to this character’s journey (or so we presume).
Which brings us to the film’s major send-off: The Old Man & the Gun is supposedly the final film of Redford’s career, and although I hope that’s not true, this would be a beautiful closing chapter for one of the most iconic leading men in cinema history. Between this and All is Lost (2013), Redford has been giving some of the greatest performances of his career in the last few years, and he’s joined here by an ensemble of brilliant actors. After Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013), Pete’s Dragon (2016), A Ghost Story (2017) and now The Old Man & the Gun, David Lowery should be considered a Texas treasure, and his work with Redford here makes you wish they’d make a dozen more films together. If we’re lucky, perhaps they will.
The Old Man & the Gun is rated PG-13 for one expletive and some very slight violence – children ages 11 and up should be absolutely fine to see this film.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.