Redford's 'The Old Man & the Gun' is a gently comic, 'mostly true' swan song

He already did the Old Man and the Sea — not Hemingway’s, but J.C. Chandor’s super survival story, “All Is Lost,” five years ago. It was supposed to be his swan song. But swan songs often beget comebacks, and Robert Redford’s new farewell film is “The Old Man & the Gun.”

The opening legend is almost identical to — if less flippant than — the one that begins “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”: “Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true.” This is the mostly true tale of septuagenarian bank robber Forrest Tucker, whose lifelong string of heists and prison escapes drove the authorities crazy while rather enchanting the public.

“He said he had a gun,” says one bank manager — who didn’t actually see it.

Anything else? the cops ask.

“Well, he was sort of a gentleman, very polite. … He seemed happy.”

'The Old Man & the Gun'



  • Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Tom Waits, Danny Glover.
  • Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.

There’s never any violence or bloodshed. There’s always impeccable timing and crucial assistance from his longtime and equally long-in-the-tooth accomplices Waller (Tom Waits) and Teddy (Danny Glover) — The Over-the-Hill Gang.

“Get AARP on the case,” somebody suggests.

Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) gets on the case, instead. Despite his ongoing midlife crisis, he is captivated by Tucker’s commitment to his craft.

Tucker, for his part, is captivated by soulful Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who finds him endearing, in spite of his profession. “Surely there’s an easier way to make a living,” she says. “It's not about making a living,” he replies, “It’s about living.”

Truth is, he loves what he does, and he’s damn good at it.

Director David Lowery co-wrote the script, based on David Grann’s 2003 New Yorker profile of Tucker, and nicely re-creates a 1980s-vintage ambiance with all its low-tech crime-fighting tools (microfilm, pay phones, boxes of manila file folders). There’s a great shot of Hunt looking straight in Tucker’s eyes from the TV screen and one electric men’s room encounter between the cat and the mouse at a Dallas diner. There’s also a highly unlikely chase scene or two.

Of Tucker’s 17 — count ’em, 17! — jail breakouts in real life, the most audacious and celebrated was from San Quentin in a makeshift boat (dubbed the “Rub-a-Dub-Dub”) at age 70 in 1989.

What are you doing, or going to be doing, at 70?

Mr. Redford, as we know, rarely takes on a role that doesn’t match (or at least suit) his real person as well as persona. In his best performances — “The Natural,” “Butch Cassidy,” “All the President’s Men” — he’s typically an unemotional man who somehow gets audiences emotionally involved. “All Is Lost” was the epitome of that — an astonishing one-man show in which the hero has no name and never speaks. At 77, he was never more natural or charismatic.

At 82, his craggy face has more lines than a West Virginia roadmap, and his mottled hands are painful to look at. But the Sunset Kid, he wanted to end with a comedy, for his “last acting job to be fun.” Though always playing himself, to one degree or another, it’s a uniquely sympathetic self.

Ms. Sissy (now 68) and her easy sweetness are as appealing as ever. So is that incredible upturned nose. By a curious coincidence, she and Mr. Redford won their sole Oscars the same year, 1980, she for best actress in “Coal Miner's Daughter” and he as best director for “Ordinary People.”

Mr. Affleck’s detective, with his idyllic interracial family, is as laconic and diffident as ever, his high mumbly tenor often tough to understand.

The show is almost stolen by Mr. Waits, who is “gonna start thinking about my future” — at 70.

And Elisabeth Moss — best known as June Osborne in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Peggy in “Mad Men” — has a powerful scene as Tucker’s estranged (essentially nonexistent) daughter.

Mr. Redford’s 2002 honorary Oscar for creating Sundance — a huge inspiration to independent and innovative filmmakers everywhere — was eminently well-deserved. He was nominated for his acting in “The Sting” and “Quiz Show” but didn’t win. I thought for sure he’d get it for “All Is Lost.” (He didn’t even get a nomination.)

“The Old Man & The Gun” will not be earning the old Sundance Senior an Oscar, either. It’s pleasant enough, but, well, you do the best you can with the material you’ve got, you go out with dignity, and then — with your last ounce of strength — you refuse to listen to the sappy exit song.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris:

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