During the Renaissance, the Stradivari family made stringed instruments with such phenomenal craftsmanship that their perfection cannot be reproduced with modern technology. Likewise, I think movie star charisma is a strange, mystical quality–easy to appreciate, impossible to replicate. Take Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun. His performance as an aging bank robber is so casually brilliant and quietly confident that his skill becomes almost invisible. Many, if not most, talented actors would flounder with such an understated part, where much of the character’s truth lies in what he doesn’t say and how he avoids saying it. If this film is truly to be Redford’s last, then The Old Man and the Gun makes for a fitting benediction, and a reminder that we may never see his like again.
The story is built from real life events. Forrest Tucker (Redford) is a career criminal on the wrong side of 70. He robs banks with a grandfatherly twinkle and ambles along in his getaway car with the detached smile of a man on a Sunday drive. His earpiece–which resembles a bulky hearing aid–feeds him the frantic police dispatch, and he gleefully takes it in like an afternoon ballgame. During one of his escapes, Forrest has a meet cute with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a charmingly earthy widow. She takes an immediate shine to his mannered mischievousness and the two forge a real relationship–albeit one with some open secrets. Forrest and his geriatric gang (Danny Glover and Tom Waits, adding just a pinch of salt to the recipe) soon gain notoriety and attract the attention of the cops, led by John Hunt (Casey Affleck).
This might be the most genteel film about bank robbers ever made. Forrest soothes frightened tellers with his tranquillity: “It’s my first day!” A young woman says between muffled sobs. He scoops up a stack of bills and gives her a sincere nod. “Well, I think you’re doing great.” Redford’s performance here is a counterpart to the Sundance Kid–the role that made him a superstar. Sundance was an edgy, cocky gunfighter who did his best shooting while dodging bullets; Forrest prefers to not break a sweat, or have others sweat on his behalf, either. Even the soundtrack is filled with gentle, loping acoustic guitar licks.
The Old Man and the Gun is an easygoing, thoroughly entertaining film, tailored to fit its central star: Forrest Tucker makes no apologies for what he does and neither does Redford. Robert Redford was never a chameleon or a scenery-chewing character actor. He was, and is, a Movie Star–a man who forged his career on handsomeness and likability, only to leverage that success with great films like Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s Men and Ordinary People. This is one last opportunity for him to make what he does look easy. And to show just how much he’ll be missed.