Writer/director David Lowery has been hard to pin down so far in his career. He made an entertaining family film with his Pete’s Dragon remake but then followed it up with the abstract, artsy A Ghost Story. He moves in yet another direction with The Old Man and the Gun, a fitting late-career showcase for Robert Redford.
Redford plays Forrest Tucker, an elderly bank robber in Texas in the early 1980s. He became famous for his age and the fact that his robberies were all conducted in an oddly friendly, gentlemanly fashion. He and his accomplices (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) were called “The Over-the-Hill Gang”. Of course, a lawman (Casey Affleck) is in pursuit.
The movie presents Tucker as a man happily pursuing his passion in life. Even though it resulted in him going to jail many times, Tucker just kept breaking out and kept robbing banks. The octogenarian Redford’s charisma is still in full force. He’s an actor who makes us want to keep following his character, even as he makes bad decisions. His scenes with Sissy Spacek as his love interest are a joy to watch with both actors at the top of their games.
While the movie’s tone is generally warm, it does not totally gloss over and romanticize Tucker. There are sadness and melancholy here (underlined by the closing credits song “Blues Run the Game” a fantastically sad folk song from the 60s). Tucker may be pursuing his passion, but it does come at a cost. He has a daughter that he has left behind and who has no interest in seeing him. While he may know that he won’t physically hurt his victims, they don’t know that and the movie allows us to see some of that fear and pain.
Hollywood has definitely gotten in the habit of making reboots, remakes, and superhero movies in recent years. Many people grouse that “they don’t make them like they used to” or “XYZ movies just can’t get made anymore.” But these statements aren’t true. The Old Man and the Gun is exactly the kind of artfully made, character-based drama that people say they want to see (but often fail to see when they do get released). So go out and see it in theaters.