‘The Old Man and the Gun’: A film that embraces and celebrates the passing of time
Screened at this year’s Leeds International Film Festival, The Old Man and the Gun, based on a true story, shows that getting older need not lead to a loss of happiness, excitement or romance. Robert Redford returns to the role of charming outlaw in a film that embraces and celebrates the passing of time.
The ticking of a stopwatch adds a note of urgency to the opening scene, where the first thing we see is Forrest Tucker, the old man of the title, played by Redford, with his gun, robbing a bank. It seems like this old dog hasn’t learned any new tricks which, becomes a familiar scenario as Tucker repeatedly robs banks and evades capture. But that note of urgency quickly disappears. While there are constant references to time, with robberies identified by place, date, hours and minutes, it passes gently and enjoyably in this film.
Redford gives a wonderful performance, reportedly his last, as the old recidivist who refuses to retire from what makes him happy. The bank managers and clerks he steals from, along with the police chasing him, are struck by this happiness, his smiling face, but mostly his charm. Being charming and polite is what enables Tucker to be a successful bank robber. He also charms Jewel (Sissy Spacek) whilst using the hood of her broken-down truck as a way of hiding from the police. She is no pushover though, and the chemistry between these two as they size each other up is a highlight of the film. If Jewel has her suspicions about Tucker she doesn’t let on. She can see the good in his character and this is what she responds to – and encourages.
Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is a much younger man, but when we meet him, he is world-weary and looking for a change. He’s given a new lease of life by the pursuit of Tucker; even his young children are drawn in by his enthusiasm as they help to map Tucker’s trail. It’s as if Tucker’s glee rubs off on everyone. Law enforcement officers talk of him almost kindly, with a note of admiration while his exploits captivate the public.
The film avoids being sentimental or twee with reminders of Tucker’s criminal status, whose actions cause trauma and harm people’s lives. Having spent most of his life in prison Tucker has been forced to abandon those close to him. From a young age he’s escaped imprisonment, but always returns to a life of crime. It’s magical to see the younger Redford captured in photos and even a fleeting film clip, to show Tucker as a boy and a young man. This underscoring again the advance of time and of one generation passing to the next.
For someone who has grown up watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and loves it, comparisons are perhaps inevitable. Redford, once The Kid, is now The Old Man, carrying a gun once again. He even gets to ride a horse! The Old Man and the Gun, however, is a fine film in its own right.
I was impressed by its upfront yet understated depiction of ageing. Danny Glover and Tom Waits play Teddy and Waller, the other members of “The Over the Hill Gang” who Tucker often works with. Waits’ shock of unruly silver hair is a beautiful sight! They have few gripes about getting old, rather the characters embrace life, with no regrets of the past. “I know what I’m capable of”, says Teddy, without boasting or apologising. These guys are happy with who they are.
This makes for an entertaining and agreeable film, if not a demanding one. Unlike other films featuring older characters, it doesn’t play for cheap laughs, nor is it aimed solely at an older audience. The fascinating story, with marvellous performances, particularly Redford and Spacek, will ensure that The Old Man and the Gun will appeal to all generations.
Leeds International Film Festival ran 1-15 November 2018