When I was 12 I shovelled snow for an elderly couple a few houses down from mine. They were in their seventies, and before winter started they invited me in to talk about keeping their sidewalk clean. I will never forget something the (‘old’) man revealed – he said that in his mind he still felt like he could jump out of his chair and race to the door and go down the stairs but when he tried his body just wouldn’t let him. He wasn’t mad or upset about it, and he even said it almost off the cuff and even laughed about it a little. But something about that statement has always stuck with me, so when a film like “The Old Man and the Gun” comes along and embraces that notion of acceptance of aging while at the same time celebrating the life you’ve lived, and for that matter, the life you still have left to live, I always think about how those unassuming words I heard him utter so long ago still ring true. The easy, straightforward way “The Old Man and the Gun” brings so many elements together to present that theme and knock it out of the park [Reference to Redford’s ‘The Natural’ not intended] is a perfect way to pass an evening and encapsulate Redford’s lengthy career.
There are many great things to enjoy about “The Old Man and the Gun” so it’s hard to pick out one thing that you can summarize to someone else. Let’s start with Robert Redford perfectly fitting the actor with the role. You could easily replace his Forest Tucker character’s bank robberies with his filmography and the film would still work as a reflection on the joys of a life well lived, pursuing what made you happy, having wrong turns and bad choices but just accepting that’s what you’ve done. There is no doubt Redford’s work outside of this film brings a gravitas and weight to the role that bleeds the line between the two. Supported by a cast that includes Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, and Keith Carradine – actors that have just as long a history in entertainment as Redford – the genuineness of scenes where they talk about reflecting how their younger selves would feel and what they’ve learned feel deeply significant. Even Casey Affleck as the younger detective John Hunt, with his quest to investigate and capture the “over the hill” gang as his purpose parallel’s Tucker’s search for meaning with his bank robberies as his driving force.
Then there is David Lowery’s direction. He directed Redford in Pete’s Dragon, and Affleck in A Ghost Story. Both of those films also deal with resilience, survival, and the enormity of existence in the simplest but emotionally devastating ways. Yet Lowery knows that the most important factors in those surreal movies is the humanity in it that the audience connects with. On the surface, “The Old Man and the Gun” has this kind of fantastical, unbelievable quality to it as well. A person who has robbed 93 times, escaped prison 16 times, but does it politely with a smile on his face seems rather unreal. However, the film unfolds in such a way that you just sympathize with Forest’s search for something that challenges him, makes him happy, and keeps him going. You want him to succeed and be fulfilled.
Lowery also provides a nice balance of comedy, drama, and pathos so that the idea of time affecting us all never seems forced or overwrought. We get a little story about how a memory about sneaking into your house after curfew as a kid still affects how you feel as an adult or a scene about how a cupcake on your birthday means how it’s all downhill from here. The gentle way these scenes are woven together without the need for a flurry of gunshots or intricate planning about how to break into a casino show that a film can have a message with just a simple story to tell and be enormously effective, funny, and memorable.
“The Old Man and the Gun” is definitely a film worth revisiting. It throws out lines that are meaningful both in the moment you first hear them and late when you reflect on it with more experience. Who hasn’t ever wondered if they were ‘exactly where they were supposed to be’, or wanted to deeply feel ‘I’m not talking about making a living. I’m just talking about living’? The fact that you can spend 90 minutes watching an 82-year old Robert Redford effortlessly acting all that out with a smile on his face the whole time? Priceless.