“Sort of a gentleman” is how one bank manager describes Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a real-life older gentleman criminal, on whose antics director David Lowery has based his film.
Tucker is in his seventies and continues to rob banks, but not because he wants to earn a living; he robs bank because he wants to feel alive.
Bank robbery is a compulsive activity that is the lifeblood of his existence. Without it, he feels confined in the ordinariness of everyday life.
He is a gentleman who always seems to have a calm demeanour and a smile on his face. There is no sense whatsoever that he will harm anyone when he confronts bank staff and informs them gently that he is making a withdrawal using a gun rather than a withdrawal slip.
It is a curiosity in the film that no-one, including the audience, ever sees Tucker brandishing a gun during the robbery. We only see him open his overcoat while informing the teller that it’s a robbery. None of his victims can recall to the police if there was a gun.
The prospect of being caught and sent to jail is not a hindrance. Tucker has been caught before and escaped jail numerous times. It is part of the tapestry of his life.
Tucker meets and becomes entangled emotionally with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), while also being pursued by detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Jewel is intrigued and attracted by Tucker’s claims of being an outlaw.
Hunt and Tucker come to a mutual appreciation of each other’s positions. Hunt respects Tucker’s lackadaisical approach to robbing banks and Tucker taunts Hunt with clues that entice him to the chase.
Despite the appearance of casualness, Tucker is careful in his planning before he robs a bank. In consort with his fellow elderly bank robbers, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), Tucker leaves a trail of robberies leading across the United States.
Don’t expect a rollicking tale of bank robbers in the style of Bonnie and Clyde, with its freewheeling, high energy getaways and shootouts accompanied by a blistering soundtrack.
Bonnie and Clyde depicts outlaws who live life in the fast lane. The Old Man and the Gun travels in the slow lane at a leisurely speed.
Everyone from Redford to Spacek play characters appropriate to their real ages, and deliver their roles in a masterly fashion.
The Old Man and the Gun claims to be mostly a true story but with embellishments that bolster the tale into a myth of modest proportions. That is how it should be because films are not ever true stories. It’s a gentle and slow, yet worthwhile, diversion.