Writer: David Lowery (script), David Grann (The New Yorker article)
Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Elisabeth Moss
Cert: 12 (TBC)
Running time: 93mins
What’s the story: Texas, 1981. Aged escaped convict Forrest Tucker (Redford) embarks on a string of bank robberies, but the law is close behind.
What’s the verdict: The Old Man and the Gun was initially announced as Robert Redford’s acting swansong. Reportedly this may no longer be the case, but David Lowery’s irresistible crime caper is a wonderful summation of Redford’s screen legend.
The Sundance Kid may now be an old man, but as career criminal Forrest Tucker both the actor’s baby blues and infectious smile shine brightly as ever.
Briskly told over a lean 93 minutes, Forrest has gracefully robbed a bank and courted car-trouble motorist Sissy Spacek’s Jewel with coffee and pie before the opening title has appeared.
As much as a Redford swansong, this is a celebration of Spacek, a magnetic actor often forgotten. As with her male co-star, her role here also neatly bookends a glittering career; one of her early roles was as the impassive girlfriend of Martin Sheen’s killer in Badlands.
Displaying his versatility after the art-minimalism of A Ghost Story, writer/director Lowery keeps his early 80s-set comedy-drama lively and jaunty throughout. Opening text states “This is, also, mostly true”, and the rich, superbly played characters feel flesh and blood, rather than just cops n’ robbers.
Forrest put his joy of life down to his chosen career path. In a comic aside, the excitement keeps him young, meaning bank tellers repeatedly knock a decade off his age. Also receiving a second wind due to Forrest’s antics is jaded Robbery Detective and supreme case of nominative determinism, John Hunt (Affleck). Yes, that was the policeman’s real name.
There are car chases to be had, but Lowery is more interested in keeping focus on the players. A bungled heist is seen from the after-the-event perspective of Hunt, more time given to his bickering with a bank employee on how to use the CCTV videotape than the robbery itself.
Pacing is led by the breezy style of the performances; watch how the editing of Redford and Spacek’s first scene together matches the rhythm of their banter. Everyone involved has perfect pitch for the notes Lowery wants to hit.
Including Tom Waits and Danny Glover as Forrest’s cohorts, their banter carrying the spark of playful improvisation, and Sumpter as Hunt’s pragmatic wife.
Crucially, Lowery also makes room for the downsides of living with a thrill-seeking outlaw, no matter how charming. A scene featuring Elisabeth Moss shades Forrest’s past; the bank robber may never have fired his gun, but he left behind broken pieces.
Despite the Hemingway sounding title (taken from Grann’s New Yorker article), this is a low-key crowd-pleaser that resembles a product of its period. Lowery eschews obvious CGI to recreate the time, shooting on colour 16mm film to provide his images with a textured grain.
It may be old, but there’s life in the crime caper yet.