The Old Man & the Gun

Finding meaning in life

David Lowery is unique, a director to watch. He’s made four films, all of them receiving critical acclaim but all of them different from one another—at least on the surface. His first, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, is a romantic crime drama a la Bonnie and Clyde. Pete’s Dragon, a remake of an animated musical, is a moving fantasy adventure tale. A Ghost Story made my top 10 list last year.

Though different, his films have a relaxed quality and use misdirection. These are on display in his latest film.

The Old Man & the Gun is based on a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann about a prolific bank robber named Forrest Tucker who broke out of multiple jails and prisons, always returning to robbing banks.

Lowery takes liberties with the chronology of Tucker’s life and sets his film in 1981, offering specific dates for each scene. He uses a grainy filter and muted colors to make it look like it was made in 1981. And while he plays with conventions of films about cops chasing robbers, Lowery has other interests in mind.

For one, he explores the motivations of such a man. Tucker (Robert Redford) is undeterred by his multiple arrests and doesn’t seem all that interested in the money he takes from banks. Rather, he enjoys the whole process—robbery, getaway, eluding the police. In one flashback, as he flees a fleet of police cars, he opens the trunk of the car he’s driving, and bills of money fly out. You could almost call him a contemplative bank robber detached from the desire for riches.

And Tucker’s method reflects this relaxed style. He walks into a bank, greets the manager pleasantly and shows them the gun he carries under his coat (though we don’t see it). Those who are robbed often comment on his courtesy. “He was also sort of a gentleman,” one says.

In the opening scene, Tucker flees a bank robbery and stops to help a woman named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) whose pickup is stalled along the highway. Except he’s not helping her; he’s hiding from the police chasing him. The two go to a diner and have coffee. Their conversation is relaxed and pleasant, and we get to witness two fine actors hold our attention with mere talk that slowly unveils their characters.

Redford has said this is his last role as an actor, and it’s a fine way to go out. He’s 82, and his age shows in his wrinkled face and his gait. But his eyes and smile reveal a bright, active mind.

Lowery infuses the film with sly jokes. Tucker tells Jewel his name is Bob. And later, when he learns she has horses, he says he’s always wanted to ride one.

Redford has said this is his last role as an actor, and it’s a fine way to go out. He’s 82, and his age shows in his wrinkled face and his gait.

The film includes many good actors. Tucker’s sometime partners in crime are played by Tom Waits and Danny Glover. Casey Affleck plays John Hunt, the cop who chases Tucker relentlessly, only to be foiled over and over. However, when Tucker is finally caught, Hunt is deflated. He, too, is in it for the journey, not the destination. His young daughter tells him, “If you caught him, you wouldn’t get to chase him anymore.”

The Old Man & the Gun tells a fairly straightforward story, but there is much unsaid. Hunt’s interracial marriage hardly raises an eyebrow from the people in a restaurant they visit. In the diner, Tucker writes something on a piece of paper and gives it to Jewel, but we never learn what he wrote. This recalls a similar incident in A Ghost Story, where a note left in a crack in a wall is read many years later by a ghost, but we never see it.

Lowery’s films may feel slow to American audiences, but they reward close viewing and provoke thought afterward. Tucker finds pleasure and contentment in his life of robbing banks and escaping jails, and Hunt finds meaning in chasing Tucker. Where do we find meaning? And can we slow down enough to consider that question?

The film is rated PG-13.

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