There’s a timeless charm to The Old Man and the Gun, easily obsessed in the breezy chemistry of its two elegant stars. The sparkle dancing in Robert Redford’s eye reflects off the Golden Era glimmer of Sissy Spacek’s gentle curl of a smile. Their attraction is palpable, enchanting. Like sweet senior citizens slow dancing to a Sinatra classic. Imported from the height of 1970s quirk, this true story is cool in much the same way a stand-up bass is cool; it’s an old-timey classy caper, outdated though it may be, that serves as a fitting send-off for the always reliable Redford.
The film from David Lowery (Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is a gentle feature through and through, even the danger, gunshots, and bank robbery are smartly dressed and gentlemanly. It’s all a bit slight – the low-stakes thievery plays better to a generation not accustomed to the normalization of excessive force and police brutality. Redford’s Forrest Tucker is the walking, talking embodiment of white privilege – his robbing of banks played as cutesy and carefree. Even surrounded by a squadron of police officers, guns drawn, affixed to him, he laughs and smiles. The lack of actual risk is almost offensive.
Early on in the film, Forrest robs a bank. And it’s quite literally the most pleasant bank robbery imaginable. His face a grinning rutabaga, he saunters up to the counter, casually informing the teller that he has a gun and they are indeed being robbed. He’s uncommonly kind about the whole affair. Concerned for the emotional well-being of the bank employee who he just flashed a gun at. Like it’s an inside joke and they’re in on the gag too. He makes it such a lighthearted engagement that many tellers probably don’t even see the robbery as the low point of their day.
During his escape, Forrest meets Jewel (Spacek), broken down on the side of the road. Over diner coffee and anecdotes, the two roll into quick flirtation. They crush on one another like grade schoolers. The film introduces a foil in Casey Affleck’s determined detective John Hunt, who pieces together Forrest’s string of robberies and names the geriatric outlaw and his two cohorts (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) the Over-The-Hill Gang. There are traces of Catch Me If You Can to their relationship; it’s flirty, loving even, despite not really being properly developed.
A sense of clueless detachment pervades the film. There isn’t a lot of deep reflection or introspection (despite paying lip-service to such) and there’s no serious recompense. Even jail time is a minor inconvenience and not a legitimate terror. At one point, Lowery’s film introduces a daughter Forrest doesn’t know he has (Elisabeth Moss) and, in the blink of an eye, she drifts out of the film, a silent whisper, having had virtually no impact on the titular anti-hero. He never even finds out she exists.
Despite its obvious obliviousness, The Old Man and the Gun is an easygoing and classically told charmer. A tasty selection of musical numbers – from the dulcet thrumming of Jackson C. Frank to The Kink’s essential single “Lola” – is a pleasing tonic to help wash away the less tempting elements of Lowery’s creation. The texture of the film is felt in the director’s framing of the shots, DP Joe Anderson’s tasteful photography and Annell Brodeur quaint costumery. And the lingering glimpse of Robert Redford donning a gun and a smile is iconic send-off imagery. So long as this is indeed his last feature.
CONCLUSION: Harmless ’The Old Man and the Gun’ is a happy-go-lucky example of otherwise pedestrian geriatric drama made amiable by two delightful lead performances. Pleasant but not worth rushing out to see, its politics are also unfortunately firmly arrested in blasé consequentialism.