Movie Review: Redford gives us a Bank Robber in Winter in “The Old Man & the Gun”

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You’d swear that Oscar winner Sissy Spacek is injuring herself, as big as her grin is and as long as she holds it.

Danny Glover and Tom Waits may be old pros playing ex-cons, but there’s something just tickled about their performances in group moments.

Brooding Oscar winner Casey Affleck may be playing a morose burnout case, but his eyes give away genuine delight in his scenes with the titular “The Old Man & a Gun.”

That would be Robert Redford, 82, playing a 61 year-old who only breaks out of prison so he can rob some more banks. He’s been got caught time and again, only to get out, get the itch, break out his police scanner and stopwatch, put on a suit, a hat and a fake mustache and charm some poor teller or bank manager out of all the cash on hand.

“I wouldn’t want you to get hurt,” he’ll purr, “because I like you.”

It’s like Mister Rogers has a drawl and a yen for stickups.

“A gentleman,” the ladies and gents he robs tell the cops. Courtly, well-mannered, with eyes that dance a little, they might add.

Redford plays this guy with all the bemused goodwill his decades in the movies will allow, and we eat it up because of that residual goodwill and good humor. It couldn’t have hurt to remember, before each take, that this real life bank robber shared the name of a famous comic character actor — Forrest Tucker. 

Writer-director and frequent Casey Affleck collaborator David Lowery (“A Ghost Story,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) gives this breezy “mostly true story” nicely spaced moments of whimsy and a touch of romance in between the bank jobs and getaways.

Because this Tucker stumbles into a widowed horse rancher (Spacek) on one of his getaways. Her car trouble gives him a passenger when the cops are looking for a fellow by himself. And her smile lights him up and makes him over-share. Yeah, he robs banks. Nooooo, he’s just kidding.

“What’d be worse, that I’m lying about this, or that I’m not.?

Whatever the motives of his accomplices (Glover and singer/actor Waits), this Tucker fellow only feels he’s really living when he’s doing something daring, dangerous and that requires skill, nerve and cunning to pull off. All those earlier arrests? That was different.

“I know what I’m doing now.”

“The Old Man & the Gun” ambles across half the country, pulling off heists, getting away more or less clean, wooing the Texan with the horses in between jobs. His laid-back, sway-backed zest for life is infectious. He’s got things he wants to do before he dies.

The one guy who could stand to catch what he’s spreading around is John Hunt, a just-turned-40 Dallas robbery detective who has a beautiful wife (Tika Sumpter) and two little kids, but no will to go on.

“I need to start trying a lot harder, or quit,” he says. When he has his kids with him on the day Tucker robs a Dallas bank, right under his nose without him having a clue it’s happening, it really is, as they say in Texas, “Go big or go home” time.

His colleagues (Keith Carradine plays his boss) will never let him hear the end of this if he doesn’t make this “Over the Hill Gang” case. “I’ve already got the AARP on it,” one wag teases.

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It’s Redford’s show, and he lays on the genteel charm, even when the fact that he’s got a gun and is robbing a poor clerk on her first day makes her cry. Who wouldn’t wipe away her tears in the face of that kindly grin?

His scenes with Spacek have a simpatico snap to them. He’s swapping lines with a peer, and their matching reddish hair and similar accents (Tucker grew up in Florida) makes them seem just right together. He’s made better movies, but never one more charming.

Lowery never quite takes this into “Elegy for Old Age/All is Lost” territory, even with the epilogue that plays far more sober and downbeat than the lighter half-speed action comedy that precedes it.

Deciding how much of the story to tell (the man’s escapes were a hoot, and allow the filmmaker the chance to recycle young Bob’s turn in the 1966 thriller “The Chase,” in which he played an escaped convict) is a bit of an issue. Short as it is, that epilogue makes “Old Man” feel it’s going on past its curtain call.

But Redford never lets us tire of Forrest Tucker’s presence, never makes him larger than life when life-sized is enough and never allows us to fret too much that somebody’s going to get hurt in this real-life “Going in Style.”

Like Forrest Tucker himself, who figured experience was a good thing even if he’s not nearly as fast or quick to react as he used to be, Redford knows what to let us see and what we can just sense from his familiar, engaging presence.

“I know what I’m doing now.”

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 for brief strong language

Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck

Credits:Directed by David Lowery, script by David Lowery based on a magazine article by David Grann . A Fox Searchlight release.

Running time: 1:33

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