The Sundance kid has had a long run. Since his film debut in 1962, Robert Redford has become legend: he starred in stone-cold classics like “The Sting” and “All the President’s Men”, his directorial debut “Ordinary People” was one of the best films of the 20th century, he founded the Sundance Film Festival, and he produced enough indies to be named ‘the Godfather of Indie Film’. Redford has had one of the most illustrious careers in cinema history, but like all good things, it must eventually come to an end. According to Redford himself, “The Old Man & The Gun” is his final bow.
The 82-year-old actor announced in August that he’d retire from acting after this movie. He couldn’t have chosen with a more fitting writer/director to cap his legacy: David Lowery is a uniquely exciting talent in the indie scene. His movies are quiet and unassuming, yet profoundly philosophical, a style that his ethereal “A Ghost Story” perfected last year. “The Old Man & The Gun” is Lowery’s first movie about a real-life person—it’s the story of Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who started robbing banks at 15 and didn’t stop until he was caught for good at 79.
Lowery’s screenplay for the movie is a departure for him. The story forgoes his penchant for inquiries into human nature, focusing instead on a simple character study—though it’s not so much a study of Forrest Tucker as it is one of Robert Redford. Like the late Harry Dean Stanton’s last movie “Lucky”, “The Old Man & The Gun” is predominantly a sendoff for the aging actor at its center. It was Redford’s idea, in fact: he approached Lowery with a desire to play one last outlaw.
But this isn’t your typical heist film: “The Old Man & The Gun” moves slowly and speaks softly, mirroring the advanced age of its bank robbers. Forrest Tucker and his crew stroll into banks, kindly inform tellers of the impending robbery, and maintain a charming disposition until they saunter off with the cash. Lowery brings his signature low-key approach to the narrative, but instead of using his relaxed pacing to dwell on complex feelings, he draws things out so that Redford has time to have fun.
“The Old Man & The Gun” is the culmination of Redford’s acting work, yet it feels like his first time on the performative playground, in the best of ways. His flirtations with the renowned Sissy Spacek and daring confrontations with Casey Affleck’s police detective, his expressions of pride in his illicit lifestyle, his every emotion and line of dialogue—he handles them all with the freewheeling confidence of a natural, enjoying his last ride in an outlaw’s skin like it were a brand new body. Age ain’t nothing but a number.
Forrest Tucker had a firearm, but he never bothered to use it, and Lowery takes that to heart. “The Old Man & The Gun” doesn’t end Robert Redford’s acting career with a bang, and despite the movie’s almost complete lack of dramatic tension, it’s not a whimper either. It’s a relaxing, light diversion that steps back and lets Redford do what he’s done best for decades. Only time will tell if he truly retires—it only took a month for Redford to suggest he might change his mind—but if he doesn’t, it’s probably because he had so much fun as the old man with a gun.