The Old Man and the Gun: Robert Redford’s almost perfect swansong

Review: David Lowery’s film works its magic by treating its elder characters with respect

The Old Man and the Gun
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Director: David Lowery
Cert: 12A
Genre: Crime
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Isiah Whitlock, Jr, John David Washington, Tom Waits
Running Time: 1 hr 32 mins

We may as well begin by saying what The Old Man and the Gun is not. It's not among that exhaustingly tedious genre of old-geezer crime films that has its stars – Morgan Freeman, say – robbing banks to pay for hip replacements. Aside from anything else, David Lowery's film has the grace to treat its elder characters with respect. It does that by treating them like human beings.

His approach is evident in an early, brilliant scene between retiree Jewel (Sissy Spacek) and superannuated hoodlum Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford). Our anti-hero is fleeing from the scene of a crime when he spots Jewel looking hopelessly at the engine of her stalled car.

He doesn’t know much about motor mechanics, but he stops anyway and they end up sharing a piece of pie. Framed in respectful close-ups, they play out the dynamics of attraction with an ease that only decades of experience can allow. The dialogue is witty, but sparse. The editing is leisurely. This is why we need movie stars.

Redford's fame is a dominating ingredient in the stew. The Old Man and the Gun, based on the story of a real-life bank robber (then nearly two decades younger than our octogenarian star), unfolds at a leisurely pace and stages no violent set-pieces, but it doesn't pretend that this Tucker is any ordinary Joe. No man with Robert Redford's head could ever be that.


Accompanied by a gruff (what else?) Tom Waits and a (same) laid-back Danny Glover, Tucker robs his banks with a gentlemanly grace that makes friends of his victims. Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes his obsessed pursuer, exhibits a respect that barely merits the qualification "grudging".

At times the film’s deference to a guiltless thief grinds against intimations of reality. The poor bank teller who weeps because it’s “my first day” is perhaps a little more sympathetic than the film intends. But Lowery’s gentle persuasions work their magic in the end.

The young Milwaukeean – yet to make anything other than a cracker after Ain't Them Bodies Saints?, Pete's Dragon and Ghost Story – shoots the film in a grainy 16mm that reveals debts to the movies from Redford's high period. Scored to great tunes by Scott Walker and the Kinks, it could hardly offer a more satisfactory swansong to an admired star.

One gripe. You might complain that, even when dealing with senior romances, Hollywood still casts a female actor 14 years younger than her male counterpart, but it’s hard to imagine anyone hitting these notes more cleanly than Spacek. We’ll let them off this once.

Opens December 7th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist