A previous lawyer to career bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is once heard describing the activities of the aforementioned criminal to police investigator John Hunt (Casey Affleck). The lawyer is undeniably charmed and some may say, impressed, by the escapades he details, telling Hunt that when he asked Tucker why he couldn’t make a living some other way, Tucker responded: “I’m not talking about making a living, I’m just talking about living”. Reading as a book-end spiritual partner to Matthew McConaughey’s iconic line in Dazed and Confused, Tucker is a man in his twilight, and this feels much less like a motto to ‘live in the now’ and rather focuses on the idea of creating a legacy and living for the stories created within one.
‘Stories’ seems like a fitting word here, the element of imagination to craft the perfect tale not going unnoticed within the film as an opening title card tells us: ‘This story is also, mostly true’. Tucker’s anecdotes of heists, robberies and prison break-outs seem quite fondly remembered by various law-officials, bank tellers and friends despite the criminal wrong-doings. His final hurrah begins after his 1979 escape from San Quentin Prison, after which he decided to rob a bank. Fleeing the scene, he spots a woman on the side of the road with car trouble and realises he can evade the police if he pulls over to assist. It is here he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek). Tucker introduces himself with a fake name and the pair go out to a diner, quickly becoming friends. They frequently spend time with each other on Jewel’s sprawling farm, all the while Tucker is pulling off multiple robberies across the South alongside his two accomplices, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), nicknamed the ‘Over-the-hill’ gang by Detective Hurt due to their old age.
But Tucker doesn’t fit the mould of your standard bank robber. He’s gentlemanly, smartly dressed and utterly charming. He walks into banks as a well-meaning older gentleman looking to open an account or take out a loan, but with a brief flash of the gun in his jacket, the money is soon in the bag, with the other customers and workers none the wiser.
Director David Lowery adapted the screenplay from a 2003 New Yorker article from David Grann, from where the film’s title also derives. Key facts are evidently missing or glossed over for a less messy story about a humble old man who just loves the thrill of the chase, but this approach definitely rouses some moral questions for the audience to explore; why are we spurring him on? What defines the ‘perfect’ criminal? And how do supposed legends become mainstays of popular culture despite their wrong-doings, much like Bonnie and Clyde?
Tucker’s story is an elusive one, with scenes playing out with the smoothness of an Ocean’s film and Redford’s endearing presence simply a joy to behold. Sissy Spacek delivers a welcomingly warm performance as his new love interest, perhaps the only person that could convince him to give up his lifestyle. Touching scenes between the pair in diner booths or sat out on her porch feel reflective and effective, not only in how they tell Tucker and Jewel’s story, but inflect on the actors’ careers themselves.
The mysticism that surrounds Tucker’s life and the questionable authenticity of his stories (obviously sugar-coated here for a lighter plot), seem like a fitting way to appreciate the work of Redford himself, who announced his retirement from acting after this film premiered. As such, The Old Man & the Gun is a light-hearted and delightful crime caper; a charming ode to legends and how we remember them.
Dir: David Lowery
Scr: David Lowery
Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter
Prd: Julie Goldstein, Patrick Newall, Tim Headington, Marc Schmidheiny, Lucas Smith, Karl Spoerri
DOP: Joe Anderson
Music: Daniel Hart
Runtime: 93 minutes
The Old Man & The Gun is out on DVD on April 1st.