Heists have never felt so heartwarming.
“The Old Man and the Gun” provides the mostly-true story of Forrest Tucker, a lifelong criminal who escapes prison at 70 and begins a gleeful spree of robberies again. He confounds nearly everyone he encounters, from a woman he falls in love with (Sissy Spacek, “The Help”) to an amused detective (Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”) to dozens of nervous bank tellers.
Director David Lowery (“A Ghost Story”) outfits the film with a nostalgic look and feel. The picture is grainy enough to feel as if the events not only happened in another era, but were filmed then too. His camerawork is self-indulgently goofy at times, with quick pans and zooms, invoking the absurdity of the story at hand, yet his style more prominently features extreme close-ups of his well-chosen cast. The proximity to their visages is not claustrophobic; it’s endearing and emotionally persuasive.
Perhaps these shots work well because every performance in the film is genuine and captivating. Even those in the supporting cast, including Danny Glover (“Sorry to Bother You”) and Tom Waits (“Short Cuts”), never feel as though they are acting. Each line of dialogue feels fresh and spontaneous, each idiosyncrasy smooth and habitual. Above all, the film oozes humanity, and that’s why its impact is so memorable.
“Old Man” defies the abrasive tendencies in its genre with admirable indifference. It is among the few truly “feel good” crime stories, not forcing a viewer in with guns and violence, but inviting them instead with a pair of twinkling eyes and an old-timey charm.
Those twinkling eyes, of course, belong to none other than Robert Redford, a legend made iconic by his role as the Sundance Kid. Not only does Redford’s dry wit and contagious grin hold the movie together, but makes it believable too. A viewer might ask themselves, “Would I really hand over money to a man who never showed me that he had a gun?” And upon seeing Redford’s confident charisma, the answer is inarguably: Yes.
A recurring point of humor in the movie is the way that Tucker smiles politely at the people as he robs them, making them feel at ease as they hand over bags of cash. But the expression is as much a descriptor of Redford’s witty charm as it is the audience’s reaction to the robberies — not trepidation or urgency, but glee.
For all these enjoyable moments, the film purviews a gentle appreciation and not much else. Lowery aims for a pure, untainted ode to Redford’s legendary career, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when the narrative momentum picks up, the genuflection overrides any possibility of tension from the audience.
The truth is, the film wraps the viewer up so completely within itself that the constant encomium does not vastly take away from the experience. However, it prevents the film from having a truly gripping narrative. And that seems to be, for better or worse, Lowery’s intention.