The Old Man and the Gun, the highly anticipated film shot in Cincinnati and Dayton last year that stars Robert Redford in what may be his last starring role, had its world premiere over the Labor Day Weekend at Colorado’s prestigious Telluride Film Festival. The early reviews from the film press — Variety, Hollywood Reporter and IndieWire — were rhapsodic, but there was a dissenting opinion.
The film features Redford as real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, who escaped prison at age 70 and resumed his criminal ways. It is based on a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann.
Besides Redford, the cast includes an amazing number of well-known actors — Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Elisabeth Moss, Danny Glover, Keith Carradine, Tom Waits and more.
Director David Lowery, who also wrote the screenplay, is coming off his critical favorite 2017 indie movie A Ghost Story, which also starred Affleck (as did his earlier (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and has marked him as a director to watch. And Redford previously starred in Lowery’s Pete's Dragon.
Variety’s Peter DeBruge started his review this way: “When Robert Redford was younger, the matinee-idol handsome actor would make it a point to give the camera his ‘good side,’ and audiences would melt. He’s older now and makes no attempt to hide it, but then, he doesn’t need to. People don’t forget a performer like Redford, whose movie-star charisma idles low and sexy like a Harley Davidson motor even when he’s not doing anything, and that means a movie like David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun — a dapper, low-key riff on the bank-robber genre — can play things soft, counting on Redford’s charm to fuel the show.”
And he closes this way: “When you find something you’re good at, you stick with it. For Robert Redford, that’s acting. For Forrest Tucker, it’s robbing banks. No one really wants to see guys like this retire, but if they must, it might as well be in a film as reflective as this one. What kind of legacy does Tucker leave behind? (A haunting scene with Elisabeth Moss as the daughter he probably doesn’t even realize he had will make your heart ache.) On the other hand, a movie like this is a reminder of everything Redford has given us over the years.”
At IndieWire, Eric Kohn says. “The premise of The Old Man & the Gun is telegraphed early on, and never falters: As obsessive real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, Robert Redford plays a man who can’t stop doing the one thing he does best. In that regard, it’s the ideal project to reflect on the iconic actor’s career, which stretches back decades and seems as though it might never end. Redford may claim that The Old Man and the Gun is his final role, but like the smirking thief he plays here, there’s a lingering sense that even he doesn’t buy it.”
He does express some reservations later on, but still finds the film an overall rewarding experience: “At times, the story suffers from a knee-jerk shyness, as if the filmmaker were hesitant to take the movie into more ambitious terrain, and a few scenes do stumble on obvious homage. (One montage of the character’s jailbreaks goes so far as to include footage from Redford’s 1966 crime drama The Chase.) But as the period-appropriate tunes keep playing (the soundtrack includes everything The Kinks to Simon & Garfunkle, who complement the movie’s one big showdown), The Old Man & the Gun generally feels like the best kind of tribute, one that understands the material so well that it inhabits its very essence.
“Ultimately, the movie is a giant, lovable metaphor: Tucker’s criminal preoccupations are such a natural part of his life he seems as if he could keep at it forever, no matter the impracticalities, and he becomes an ideal avatar for Redford’s own achievements. Whether or not Redford has actually delivered his final performance, the movie makes it clear that the actor’s past credits ensure he’s around for good.”
At Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy wrote, “If Robert Redford sticks to his pledge that he is now retired from acting, he is going out on a very good note with The Old Man & the Gun. This warm and gritty tale of compulsive real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker, who escaped from prison 16 times over the course of a long career that only ended when he was in his late 70s, is first and foremost a story about a man who loved his work. This sentiment could certainly be applied to Redford as well, and writer-director David Lowery makes a point of filming it in a 1970s style that vividly recalls the actor’s heyday playing outlaws and other rascally characters. Longtime fans of the actor will savor this enjoyable character piece, so (distributor) Fox Searchlight’s main challenge will be to entice some younger viewers to come appreciate old-timers’ still-vital talents.”
But the critic Walter Chaw, writing for Film Freak Central, wasn’t buying the film as elegy, reverie, allegory or anything else of that nature. He saw it as hypocrisy. Here’s a portion from his hard-hitting, lively review:
“The danger of films as aggressively harmless as The Old Man & the Gun is that they feed into a certain base belief system about the way things are and the illusion of how good things used to be. There are hints herein that Tucker's actions are deeply traumatizing to his victims — particularly a young mother who begs for the life of her child when Tucker decides to cleverly carjack her while eluding, again, the hapless police. There's subtext ripe for mining, too, in the idea that because the robbers are elderly, no one pays much attention to them, thus allowing them to continue getting away with their adorable terror spree.
“What would the film have been like if the crimes they were committing were kidnapping and murder, instead? Problematically, the audience is led to feel that bank-robbery isn't much of a big deal, either, never mind the weeping teller, or the scene where a bank is robbed while John Hunt's kids are there. All of that PTSD is played as the endearing shenanigans of an American folk hero, which is, alas, par for the course for movies that think you're an idiot. The lingering impact of the film, if there is one, is how hilarious it is that old people have sex lives, so long as I don't have to watch or really even have it intimated for a second. There is not one moment of The Old Man & the Gun that owns its uncomfortable underneath; it's like sanitizing a crocodile pit for your protection. If you really needed a glad-handing film about a cheerful sociopath living his best life to tell you that old people are three-dimensional human beings, then you're the fucking sociopath.”
The film is scheduled to open here Oct. 12.