The Old Man & the Gun

 

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A film in which Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek remain at the top of their game.

 
Old Man & the Gun
 

On paper, this film is the American equivalent of the British production King of Thieves: both films give a leading role to an octogenarian star in a tale based on the real-life story of an aged robber but told in a way that allows in a fair amount of humour and plays down the more sordid realities. In each case this enables audiences to be entertained by a much-loved star supported by a cast of famous names. While King of Thieves was centred on Michael Caine, The Old Man & the Gun offers what may prove to be a final role for Robert Redford. However, there's a further similarity in that both films briefly incorporate clips from past movies made by the lead actor which supposedly pass for earlier events in the life of the main character but which are really intended to remind the star's fans of past pleasures.

 

If, in spite of Caine's endeavours, King of Thieves was something of a disappointment, one factor in particular encouraged one to be more hopeful about Redford's film. The piece was written and directed by David Lowery who made a substantial impact with his 2013 drama Ain't Them Bodies Saints? and more recently triumphed in defiantly offbeat mode with A Ghost Story. In the event, however, it is Lowery's contribution that disappoints. In telling the story of the serial bank robber Forrest Tucker, he nevertheless provides a role that is ideal for Redford. That's because the man, despite spells in prisons from which he has made many an escape, has been happy in his life of crime and comes across as quite a gentleman: he may carry a gun but he never fires it.

 

The film takes place in 1981 and is largely set in Texas when Tucker was in his sixties but, since he and his two companions in crime (Tom Waits and Danny Glover) became known as The Over-the-Hill Gang, it matters not a jot that Redford is now 82. Furthermore, his charm is undiminished so a tentative romance with a widow (Sissy Spacek) plays effectively. The film avoids being heavy-handed (that extends to the tone of the scenes featuring the cop on Tucker's tail played by Lowery regular Casey Affleck who is not always easy to hear). But the piece is in itself decidedly slight (there's no suspense during the robberies) and, even at a mere 93 minutes, it seems long drawn out. This is especially so during the last ten minutes which needed better shaping to cohere effectively. Late on a song holds together a group of short scenes rather neatly, but the actual music score is utterly routine.

 

All told, given Lowery's recent good work, one emerges surprised that he has not given us a more telling piece here. But, if the material lets us down and if Waits and Glover seem underused, the stars shine. Redford, also a producer here, pitches his lines to perfection. Even so and although one cannot imagine anybody else playing Tucker better, it is Sissy Spacek who steals the show. In absolute accord with Redford, she shares his certainty of tone and delivery but also delicately captures all the nuances that make her role the more rewarding of the two.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek, Elisabeth Moss, Gene Jones, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Teagan Johnson, John David Washington, Keith Carradine.

 

Dir David Lowery, Pro James D. Stern, Dawn Ostroff, Jeremy Steckler, Anthony Mastromauro, Bill Holderman, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston and Robert Redford, Screenplay David Lowery, from an article by David Grann in The New Yorker, Ph Joe Anderson, Pro Des Scott Kuzio, Ed Lisa Zeno Churgin, Music Daniel Hart, Costumes Annell Brodeur.

 

Condé Nast/Endgame Entertainment/ Sailor Bear/Wildwood Enterprises-20th Century Fox.
93 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 7 December 2018. Cert. 12A.