Robert Redford has never been the kind of actor who’s going to impress you by disappearing in a role. He’s not a chameleon actor like Gary Oldman or Christian Bale. He impresses with his naturalism, his charm and his everyman quality. He’s someone you feel like you can get along with and would love to hang around. That’s why his movies are so great to watch and revisit. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Natural and All the President’s Men with my grandfather or father when I was younger. He’s a soothing presence, and that continues with his latest (and supposedly last) film, The Old Man & the Gun.
Written and directed by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery (A Ghost Story; Pete’s Dragon), The Old Man & the Gun is a fitting send off for Redford, because it, in many ways, is a greatest hits compilation of what makes Redford films so endearing.
In the film, Redford portrays real-life crook Forrest Tucker, a man who was in and out of prison from the time he was a teen to his last days on Earth. He had the skills and brains to break out of prison (18 times, successfully), but would go right back to committing robberies because it’s the only life he knew how to live.
However, what separated him from the criminal pack was his charm. He didn’t wear a mask (just a fake mustache, a fedora and a gentleman’s suit) or try to strike terror into the people he was robbing. It was the complete opposite, actually. He, as Redford notes in the film, would walk up to the bank counter and inform the teller, “Ma’am, this is a robbery. [Shows her the gun.] I wouldn’t want you to get hurt, because I like you. I like you a lot. So, don’t go breaking my heart now, OK?”
Tucker was never heavy on the theatrics. He just wants to get in and out as clean and safely as possible, with no intention of firing his weapon. He’d only flash a smile and wish whoever he robbed that they’d have a good day. That’s it. I mean, who would raise a red flag over an old man?
There are lot of robbery and heist films out there. In Ben Affleck’s The Town, there are complex individuals and calculated and dangerous heists where people get hurt. Lowery’s film, on the other hand (and I like The Town) is like slipping into a warm bath. It’s easy to follow, has characters you will fall in love with (including Sissy Spacek as a woman Redford’s Tucker meets one day and becomes friendly with) and is thematically rich. You, oddly, want Tucker to have the money.
One of the film’s strengths is how it doesn’t take the Hollywood approach to its material. There’s a big robbery scene about halfway through the film that features Tucker and his friends (played by veteran actors Danny Glover and Tom Waits) developing a strategy for the big job. They are used to doing small financial institutions, but this one has multiple floors, armored trucks and lots of people. Instead of showing the action unfold piece by piece, we only see the setup and the aftermath. We learn about the details of the event through witness accounts, which leaves the viewer to imagine how it all went down.
Lowery isn’t concerned with the action. He wants to delve into Tucker’s thinking and feelings. It’s a film that has themes that gets the viewers to contemplate, “Is what I do in life worth it? Is it worth sacrifices the important things in life, like family and relationships?”
You don’t have to be a bank robber or someone who engages in criminal activity to relate to Tucker’s story. It’s a human story and a lovely one at that. Seek it out.