Review: The Old Man & the Gun (2018)

oldman.jpgThe Old Man & the Gun is a 2018 Crime Drama written and directed by David Lowery and starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover and Tom Waits. The script is based on the New Yorker article of the same name by David Grann.

Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker (Redford) and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities (Affleck) and enchanted the public.

Heavily billed as Redford’s final role before retirement, it only makes sense that the film heavily focuses on the acting of its talent.

Redford is of course fantastic, oozing effortless charm and embodying Tucker’s affable but untrustworthy persona. His scenes with Spacek have such a touching believability that their relationship feels almost tangible. The way their eyes sparkle when they look at each is heart-warming and their slow naturalistic conversations are endearing yet long-winded. This isn’t the snappy, precise dialogue that modern audiences are accustomed to, this is slow plodding dialogue fully of pauses and half-finished sentences.

Matching Redford stride for stride is Affleck, whose tired Detective Hunt embarks on a very personal mission. Hunt is surrounded by friends and co-workers who reiterated that, as he has just turned 40, he is past his peak and that his life should wind down. Contrast that with a serial bank robber in his 70’s, who refuses to stop doing what he loves, and you have a wonderful dynamic to follow. The highlight of this dynamic, and of the whole film, is an exchange between the two characters in the toilets of a restaurant where the tension is at its highest and the action is wholly unpredictable.

Glover and Waits are also fine additions to the cast, but aside from a humorous Christmas story, neither really has a whole lot to do in the film. Waits especially just leaves the movie around the midpoint and his presence is sorely missed. This is probably an example of when following a true story too closely is narratively unsatisfying.

Story-wise, The Old Man & the Gun is meandering. Numerous characters are introduced and ultimately play little to no part in the arc of the film and perhaps most egregiously, the movie hints at an especially interesting development only to have it never mentioned again.

The decision to shoot on Super 16mm film was a great creative choice and lends the film an almost dreamy atmosphere. Seeing the action through the grainy film really enhances the period setting and adds credibility to the performances.

A lot of the discourse regarding the film refers to it as nostalgic filmmaking, so perhaps that’s what I’m missing. I don’t have an affinity for naturalistic dialogue, floaty camerawork and a meandering story so whilst I enjoyed The Old Man & the Gun, I find myself impassioned about it. All the pieces work but I’m not sure the overall film is greater than the sum of its part.

The film on the whole never quite steps out of Redford’s shadow as the true story feels almost lost as it becomes the vessels for a metaphor/ celebration for the famed actor’s career.

The Old Man & the Gun plays out a lot like one of Tucker’s robberies: charming, easy going, respectful and showcasing the gun but never using it. In need of tightening up, this nostalgic trip is entertaining enough but not memorable. Outside of Redford’s performance, there’s little reason to ever return to this true story. Perhaps they should’ve used the gun at least once.

The Old Man & the Gun Cup Rating: 55%

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