The best fugitive movies are the ones where the runaway and the cop/detective on the chase form a sort of symbiotic relationship or unspoken respect for one another, learning so much about the opposing side to where they feel like they know them. Such pairings have become nearly as common as superhero blockbusters, and yet…we can’t stop watching. This dynamic can even transcend the movie, itself, to where it almost doesn’t matter what the film does wrong as long as that core relationship is there.
The “old man” referenced in The Old Man & the Gun is Forrest Tucker, played by Robert Redford, a 70-year-old bank robber who’s escaped from prison sixteen times in his life. The movie is set in 1981, which makes this more believable (also, it’s based on a true story, a claim which somehow doesn’t make it more believable these days).
Tucker is on the run again after robbing a bank in Texas when he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a septuagenarian who unknowingly aids him in his getaway. Instantly, Tucker falls for her and their relationship helps us see who he really is–which isn’t all that different from how he carries himself while performing his heists. Every teller who gets interviewed by the police remarks on how friendly and charismatic Tucker is. And how he always seems so happy.
On the other hand, there’s police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) who is the lead on the geriatric criminal case. Unlike Tucker, Hunt is not necessarily charming or likable, even from the get-go. He’s obviously depressed with where his life is at. A guy with a family at home, but hates his job. Contemplating where he’s at with his career, he sees catching Tucker as a way to revitalize the passion he (assumedly) once had for his line of work. Which is why when the FBI tries to step in and take the case from him, he stubbornly resists.
Although the movie is named for Redford’s character, it’s just as much about Hunt. Where Hunt gets depressed about work, Tucker literally can’t stop robbing banks because he loves it so much. He doesn’t do it out of necessity. The two exist to juxtapose one another. Yet showcased is the epitome of one not being able to exist without the other.
Affleck is subtle, yet concise with his every facial expression, and deliberate with each word he says. Redford is obviously from a different era of acting. Not better or worse. We’re just not really used to it anymore. From the way he delivers his lines down to something as slight as his conviction, his style is glaringly different than Affleck’s.
Where The Old Man & the Gun works best are the perfect moments between two characters. Like Redford and Spacek exchanging dialogue–almost Tarantino-like–in a diner. The scene probably goes on for longer than any film has a right to make one scene of just dialogue, but the kind of thing that’s always acceptable when done with the artful grace of a well-written script. And then the obligatory, yet beautifully memorable exchange between Tucker and Hunt, just shows how talented writer/director David Lowery is at these scenarios. The dialogue is so specific to each character, that you couldn’t imagine Affleck saying Redford’s lines, and vice versa.
The Old Man & the Gun is a filmmaker’s film. Not perfect entertainment, but the beauty is in the details. One takeaway might be that the events aren’t as gripping as the title suggests. But I say the fact that it’s still fun to watch regardless makes the movie even more impressive.
Originally published on January 31, 2019 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/the-old-man-the-gun-2018/