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The Old Man and the Gun

The Old Man and the Gun comes to us from writer/director David Lowery, who’s developing quite a varied and respectable filmography for himself after the woefully underrated Pete’s Dragon (2016) and the critically lauded A Ghost Story. Lowery takes yet another left turn with this picture, loosely adapted from the true life story of Forrest Tucker (here played by Robert Redford).

In between his 16 escapes from prison (!!!), Forrest has been robbing banks his entire life. The gimmick is that he robs banks by… well, just by asking politely, more or less. He walks up to the teller, very calmly and politely stating that he’s robbing the bank, and asks the teller not to do anything stupid because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. And while the bank employees do trigger the silent alarm, Forrest is more than practiced enough at evading the cops, and he has a police scanner in his ear at all times, cleverly disguised as a hearing aid. Forrest has a gun, and he makes a point of letting the bank workers know he has it, but he’s probably never used it. And the bank workers are far more helpful to Forrest than they are to the cops, because… well, because he’s just so gosh-darn charming and warm and friendly.

Basically, this is the kind of MO that only Robert Redford could pull off.

But of course we can’t have a robber unless we also have a cop. Enter John Hunt, played by Casey Affleck. Hunt is a detective in a loving interracial marriage (his wife is played by Tika Sumpter) and two sweet kids, and we first meet him on his 40th birthday. So he’s just starting middle age, the back half of his life looming in front of him, and he’s wondering what the hell he’s doing with his life. Why even chase criminals and solve cases when it doesn’t stop the same awful shit from happening?

(Side note: I looked it up — Affleck is 43.)

So one day, Forrest robs a bank while Hunt is there with his kids. Naturally, nobody cares enough to do anything, so Hunt decides to go after Forrest just to feel accomplished about something.

Elsewhere in the cast, we’ve got Sissy Spacek as a love interest for Forrest. The two have great chemistry and its sweet to see such a poignant romance between two people of a certain age — that’s not something you see in cinema very often. We’ve also got Danny Glover and Tom Fucking Waits in the cast as Forrest’s associates in crime. Elisabeth Moss, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Keith Carradine, and John David Washington all make memorable cameo appearances as well.

Oh, and Gene Jones makes a brief appearance, in an uncanny bit of symmetry with his iconic turn in No Country for Old Men.

Now take another look at all the names I just mentioned. That’s a hell of a talent list, and the actors are all as fantastic as you’d think. Yes, I know this is Robert Redford’s show and there’s nobody else in the world who could ever sell this so well as he could, but the supporting cast deserves their fair share of kudos as well. To wit: The movie stops dead in its tracks for several minutes so a character can deliver a meaningless story about why he hates Christmas. And it’s such a great story that I ate it up without complaint. Who else could pull that off but Tom Fucking Waits?

There’s not much to say about the plot, because honestly, the plot is almost beside the point. I mean, there is a plot, inasmuch as there is a conflict between Forrest and law enforcement as Forrest goes about his bank robberies along the path of his development arc. But the plot has numerous digressions, and the filmmakers don’t seem in any rush to get anywhere fast. It’s a 90-minute movie that feels like it’s two hours long. And it totally works.

“It’s about the journey, not the destination” is hardly a new idea or a new cinematic theme, but this movie goes even further, stating that the destination isn’t even important at all. In the grand scheme of things, the only destination that really matters is the one we’re all headed for: the grave. So long as we’re all living happy and productive lives, who even needs short-term or long-term goals that are only stepping stones on the greater journey anyway?

This is most plainly visible in the massive stacks of money gathering dust under Forrest’s floorboards. At north of 60 years old, with no close family, what could he possibly be saving all that money for? We never find out. Crazy as it seems, robbing banks is only an end in itself for Forrest. This is all he knows how to do, and the only way he knows how to live. But when he’s so good at robbing banks and getting out of prison, and it’s all he gets enjoyment out of, does he really need anything to spend the money on? Does he need any greater goal?

Of course, Forrest is still a criminal and the movie is good enough to never shy away from that. Except for when Hunt starts to show misgivings about bringing Forrest in. This reluctance is never explained, it goes nowhere, and it was a huge mistake all-around.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed watching Hunt learn from the older gentleman as he chases Forrest down. Hunt slowly rediscovers his own lust for life and the passion for what he does, as he sees the same in the older man he’s pursuing. It’s all very nicely presented with a elegance and subtlety.

Everything about The Old Man and the Gun is understated and laid-back, much like its protagonist. And frankly, so much of crime cinema is so dependent on elaborate schemes and fast chases, it’s kind of a miracle that a crime movie can work so well when it’s this simple and low-key. It also helps that the movie was clearly shot on film stock and set in a vibrant 1981 period. It helps to give the film a warm nostalgic feel, suitable for a movie about growing old with dignity.

Those with the patience for it will find a sweet little movie with comedy and romance like no other movie could accomplish. Definitely give it a look.

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