What is it about bank robbers that makes us root for them in movies? From “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Inside Man” to “The Town” to “Bandits” to “Out Of Sight” to “Going In Style” (the original, not the horrid remake), we find ourselves charmed by the armed thieves.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is based on a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann about one such charismatic criminal, Forrest Tucker (not to be confused with the actor best known for TV’s “F Troop”). Tucker is played by Robert Redford, who eases into the role smoothly, and like Tucker, gets by on the formidable force of his personality. He portrays Tucker as a gentleman who was always polite and nice to the tellers he showed a gun to, yet had no remorse for the federal crimes he was committing.
In some of his robberies, he worked with two accomplices, played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits. The latter has a shock of white hair on his head and earns the film’s biggest laugh when he tells a story in his great gravelly voice about a boyhood Christmas gone wrong. It made me want to just sit and listen to Waits tell tall tales.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is also a romance between Tucker and a woman named Jewel, played by Sissy Spacek. Taken with each other from the start, they develop a relationship even though she’s wary of this good-looking mystery man. Seeing the two screen veterans together, with their natural chemistry and sense of timing, is an absolute pleasure.
The part of “The Old Man and the Gun” that bogs down has to do with John Hunt, the detective tracking Tucker, played by Casey Affleck. I have never understood Affleck’s mumbling appeal, and the movie wastes too much time on his home life. Every minute with his wife (Tika Sumpter) and kids is a minute I could have spent with Tom Waits’ character. John David Washington — so good in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” (my review is here) — plays Hunt’s police partner, but he’s given very little to do.
The movie belongs to Redford as Tucker, a criminal from the age of 15 until he died in a Texas prison in 2004 — not his first time behind bars. Over the course of several decades, Tucker claimed to have escaped from prison 18 times successfully and 12 times unsuccessfully. No one knows exactly how many banks he robbed or how many millions of dollars he stole, but he sure seemed to enjoy his profession. And yes, I was rooting for him all the way.
A few weeks ago Redford told an interviewer that this is the last time he’ll act in a movie. He retracted that statement not long after. But if it turns out this is his last turn on the big screen, he’ll have brought his career back around in a circle that once included a young man with a gun known as The Sundance Kid. It turns out that Redford and Tucker have something in common — a passion for their work that kept them going well into their senior citizen years.
I give “The Old Man and the Gun” a 7.5 out of 10.
Postscript: On the way out of “The Old Man and the Gun,” I overheard another reviewer saying no one under 50 would go see this movie. I’m not sure that’s true, but if it is, so what? We have movies made for kids, for teens, for men, and for women. There’s nothing wrong with one whose audience will be older — in fact, that demographic may well embrace it — but if you’re under 50 and enjoy a good time in a movie theater, there’s no reason to avoid this one just because its stars have a few years on you.