“This story is mostly true”, we’re told. And while The Old Man and the Gun is ostensibly about the hunt for the Over the Hill Gang, a real-life trio of geriatric bank robbers led by Robert Redford’s Forrest Tucker, it’s really a stylish homage to the charming outlaw archetype enshrined by Hollywood and, of course, Redford himself. This is pure, selfreflexive cinematic pleasure.
For Forest Tucker, robbing banks isn’t about making a living. It’s about living. Sharply dressed in a periwinkle blue suit, he carries out his work with precision and politeness, leaving witnesses oddly admiring of his gentlemanly manner. Aided by Danny Glover’s Teddy and Tom Waits’ Waller, he’s done countless jobs and escaped from imprisonment so many times that he can’t remember when and where every jail break took place. He slips through the cops’ fingers yet again when he stops to help Jewel (Sissy Spacek) with her broken down car and the police cars speed unknowingly past. While romance gently blossoms, the appropriately named Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) grows determined to catch him.
In his unlikely follow up to last year’s metaphysical marvel A Ghost Story, director David Lowery has crafted an irresistible love letter to Robert Redford’s legendary screen persona. He grants Redford a proper star’s entrance, teasing us with glimpses of a wrinkled hand on the steering wheel of the getaway car, the warmth of his voice, that
unmistakeable rust-coloured hair. He gives us room to sigh with nostalgic pleasure when he’s finally revealed, still with that Sundance Kid twinkle in his eye. Tucker may be a criminal but his irrepressible joie de vivre makes him delightful company. It’s no wonder Sissy Spacek’s Jewel falls for him, and it feels like a privilege to watch them together. As icons of 1970s New Hollywood their scenes are imbued with their cinematic history, but there is also a simple joy in seeing an older couple flirt over slices of pie. Sharing memories and stories of missed opportunities, their relationship is both mature and endearingly adolescent. Their first kiss tingles with giddiness, like first love.
Joe Anderson’s grainy Super 16mm gives the film a retro, hand-crafted feel, while the robbery sequences themselves echo both heist and crime caper classics and 70s conspiracy thrillers. Montages sparkle thanks to Daniel Hart’s smooth jazz score, while snooping overhead shots and long zooms on Redford staking the joint from a rooftop evoke films like The Conversation and The Parallax View.
The Old Man and the Gun is reported to be Redford’s final film and what a fitting tribute it is. There’s something mythic about the sight of banknotes streaming from the boot of his car, pursued by the police but still smiling. While there’s a melancholy edge to Tucker as a man always hustling, always looking over the next horizon, it’s a surprisingly inspirational film about pursuing what you love. “You know what I do when a door closes?” Tucker says, “Jump out the window”.
by Laura Venning
Laura Venning is a Film and TV Production grad from London about to embark on a Film Studies MA. She’s particularly interested in female directors and Australian and New Zealand cinema. Her favourite films include A Matter of Life and Death, The Piano, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Cléo from 5 to 7. You can find her on twitter at @laura_venning