Why is Robert Redford still acting? Because when you’re good at something, why stop? It’s a similar hunger his character, six decade-long career criminal and escape artist Forrest Tucker, feels in David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun,” based on the (somewhat) true story of Tucker and his escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to do what he does best — rob some more banks. Just like Butch Cassidy was good at thinking in “Sundance Kid,” Tucker is good at robbing banks, and after stealing an estimated $4 million over the years, he doesn’t see why a silly thing like age should slow him down.
Released on Sept. 28 and premiering at the Oneida Movieplex on Friday, Oct. 26, Lowery (“Pete’s Dragon,” “A Ghost Story”) produces a simplistically dreamy but gritty, 70s-styled crime caper, cradling a jazzy tone along its journey with Tucker and embodying his classy and criminal sophistication. In Redford’s final performance, he has fun with his role as the senior with sociopathic tendencies who has an unrelenting appetite for robbing banks, because, “well, you find something you love.”
Donning a brown fedora and a royal blue suit with a .45 pistol underneath, the smiling old man is methodical, repeating the same process of walking into a bank and walking out with money, decade after decade.
Compared to the usual violence of robberies, bank tellers and managers describe him as “polite” and a “nice enough fella,” who actually seemed “happy.”
Tucker’s partners in crime are Teddy Green and Waller, played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits, and are soon coined “The Over-the-Hill Gang” — in reality, the gang robbed over 60 banks in one year.
While fleeing police after a robbery, Tucker pulls over to “help” a stranger named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) with her broken-down truck. As the pair form a platonic relationship, we see how Jewel mirrors Tucker in her similarly independent nature as a widow with a few acres and some horses.
The pair has great chemistry, and although this romantic arch occurred in the real Tucker’s story, focusing too much on it becomes monotonous, and several “small talk over coffee” scenes could have been substituted for more chaotic and philosophical flashbacks — but that’s not Lowery’s style.
The gritty cinematography, however, is symbolic of Tucker in that they both have style. The inclusion of jazz is fitting for its mood and zeroing in on certain sounds, like the distinct ticking of Tucker’s clock when he times his bank robberies, generates a sense of urgency where you at first doubt his expertise, but are swiftly reassured.
Following so slowly behind he might as well need a walker is unimpressive detective John Hunt, played by equally unimpressive Casey Affleck, who is back at it again speaking like a drowsy cigarette smoker who just awoke from a deep sleep. In one of the worst performances by an actor I’ve ever seen, the second-rate Affleck brother bores with his emotionless line regurgitation and corrodes the film by leaving both his coat and personality at the door. Despite the terrible casting choice, this character could have been an amusing piece in this larger-than-life story, but Affleck’s weak performance makes you wish Lowery skipped that chapter altogether.
As Hunt mumbles though scene after scene, offering the emotional range of a wet napkin, his wife Maureen (Tika Sumpter, who comparably, would have been a better detective) stands by his side as he tries to catch the elusive Tucker before the FBI does.
Underneath this light-hearted film’s shell, characters ponder the cruel inevitability of time and age, but Tucker isn’t one to slow down at a yellow light (or follow most traffic rules, really). It’s the skill and thrill of it all that doesn’t stop getting old for Tucker (“I’m not talking about making a living, I’m just talking about living”). Criminality is what Tucker is good at, and what’s the point of living if you can’t do what you’re best at?
Despite Affleck’s dull performance in this film’s otherwise intriguing tale of a career criminal and those he charms along the way, I’d rate this film a six out of 10. Lowery’s stylistic film is like an old-fashioned bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey in that it embodies an aged air of sophistication, recruiting Redford and Spacek’s timeless touch of coolness to create a simplistic film that blends crime, drama and comedy to tell the story of one of America’s most prolific bank robbers and escape artists, and how he does it all with a smile.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.