To give a brief background on “The Old Man and the Gun,” the “Old Man” in the title of Redford’s latest film refers to real-life bank robber and escape artist, Forrest Tucker. Tucker allegedly stole over four million dollars during his lifetime and successfully escaped from prison 18 times. The “Gun” in the title refers to the gun he used during his heists in order to get the bank tellers to quietly and imperceptibly hand him the money he requested. He was said to never have actually put his gun to use.
Clearly, Forrest Tucker is a legend. Robert Redford, the actor who plays Tucker, is also a legend in Hollywood. In addition to being a handsome heartthrob in the 1960s, Redford has starred in classics like “The Sting” (1973), and “All the President’s Men” (1976). Redford also built himself a name as a director; his first directing stint, “Ordinary People” (1980) won him an Academy Award. Additionally, Redford founded the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival, which have contributed to the rise in popularity and status of independent films.
Sadly, “The Old Man and the Gun” marks Redford’s last film—at least as an actor. The movie, then, pays tribute both to Redford and Tucker. Based on the The New Yorker article by David Grann, “The Old Man and the Gun” relates Tucker’s story following his escape from San Quentin, nearing the end of his criminal career. By buddying up with his accomplices Teddy Green (Danny Glover) and John Waller (Tom Waits), Tucker accomplishes a number of bank heists in the film. The heists catch the attention of detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is both impressed and determined to catch Tucker.
Upon investigation, the tellers describe Tucker as being a polite gentleman. In fact, there is very little seen to suggest that Tucker is a malicious character. Rather, he’s clouded by charm and mystery — as a legend often is. Is it all about the thrill for him? The glory? It’s hard to say. His blooming relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek) is adorable as well, allowing Red- ford to show off some of the romantic charisma he was once famous for. Whether it’s because of the way Tucker was or because of the actor’s portrayal, we can’t help but feel as an audience that he’s at least partially likable.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is not a crime-chase-thriller — it’s not even a heist movie, despite the brief robbery scenes shown. It’s light-hearted and funny, and tension is relatively low. My favorite part of the movie is the sequence of most, if not all, of Tucker’s escape feats. There’s even a clip used from Redford’s own film, “The Chase” (1966).
Would Tucker have been pleased with this adaptation of his life? I don’t know; maybe it wouldn’t be exciting enough for him. Yet I think he would enjoy how the film displays such admiration for him — not condoning his actions, but pointing out his sheer will and incredible craft.
I’m sad to see Robert Redford go. I remember watching “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and being pleasantly surprised at how the film humanizes the lead thieves (portrayed by Paul Newman and Redford). I liked it because it taught me that everyone is worth the possibility of empathy. I am truthfully curious as to what this movie could’ve looked like as a heist film, but I still think it does Forrest Tucker justice. He may not have ever pulled the trigger of his gun (to our relief), but he, and Redford, exit the film with a bang.
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