Lowery is a director who specializes in southern-style romance-dramas that resonate about love and loss, yet his new film The Old Man and the Gun lacks an emotional payoff between its two legendary leads and left me running on empty.
Forrest Silva “Woody” Tucker was a bank robber born in Miami, FL, around 1920. He gained infamy as being an escape artist, attempting to break out of 30 prisons while being successful 18 times. He even escaped from the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary by pretending to be sick and temporarily being transferred to the hospital off the prison-island (he was caught a few hours later; doesn’t matter, it still counts). By the end of his life, it was estimated that Tucker stole more than 4 million dollars in cold hard cash.
The film begins with Forrest Tucker (by Robert Redford, who has said this is his last film role), now at the ripe age of 70, showing us you can anything at any age, like escape from San Quentin Prison. He robs banks with a little bit of old-fashioned respect, a sprinkle of kindness, and a dash of what some might call chivalry. While leaving the bank, he pulls over a couple miles down the road to help a woman around his own age, named Jewel (Sissy Spacek, still lovely at age 68). When he checks her truck’s engine, a handful of police cars fly past them down the road, presumably looking for the man who just robbed the local bank. Is Forrest really this gentlemanly, or is he using Jewel as a beard to escape? Maybe a little bit of both, but soon he begins to court the woman, and they start an antiquated romance of sorts, that finds Forrest questioning what he wants out of this life he has lived, mostly behind bars. Soon, a detective named John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who admires Forrest a bit, wants to take down the geriatric bandit to give meaning to a job that he feels doesn’t accomplish anything, especially in small-town America.
The Old Man and the Gun was written and directed for the screen by David Lowery, a man who specializes in southern style romance-dramas that resonate about love and loss. His Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story were gorgeously photographed and both screenplays do a masterful job of pulling back a series of unseen curtains, for an abundance of emotional payoffs. His latest explores romance between two people who possibly have felt their chance at finding love again has been long past their own expiration dates. The issue is their courtship never takes centre stage the way it should, and the robbing of the banks does. How many times can you rob a bank with the same outfit and different fake moustaches, in the same charming yet genial way, without finding yourself, as the viewer, in a Groundhog Day screenplay you can’t escape? The lack of emotional payoff between the two leads by the end of the film left me half-empty.
While Redford and Spacek are perfectly charming, and the sight of them on screen will never go out of style, the Old Man and the Gun feels like an incomplete thought on romance after age 65. The film has its moments of vintage magic, with a fairly-impressive cast that include Tika Sumpter, Danny Glover, Tim Waits, Elisabeth Moss and an unrecognizable Keith Carradine. The film is (very) loosely based on a real-life criminal, who was impressed as early as age 15, was married three times, had two children, and every time he was apprehended for robbing a bank, no one in his family knew of his criminal career. Tucker hated prison, always trying to escape, which makes the interaction in a restaurant between Forrest and John Hunt so confounding, for a man who wants to spend time anywhere besides being behind lock and key. Some might say that’s what makes the film’s screenplay interesting; I say it makes the film disingenuous. One can’t help but wonder if a better film is out there exploring Tucker’s complete life, instead of this small segment.