Telluride Film Review: ‘The Old Man & the Gun

When Robert Redford was younger, the matinee-idol handsome actor would make it a point to give the camera his “good side,” and audiences would melt. He’s older now and makes no attempt to hide it, but then, he doesn’t need to. People don’t forget a performer like Redford, whose movie-star charisma idles low and sexy like a Harley Davidson motor even when he’s not doing anything, and that means a movie like David Lowery’s “The Old Man & the Gun” — a dapper, low-key riff on the bank-robber genre — can play things soft, counting on Redford’s charm to fuel the show.

In what the actor has indicated is likely to be his final film role, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a certified rascal who, at the spry age of 76, was busted for a series of small-time heists. More than 80 stick-ups, all told (by David Grann, whose story for the New Yorker inspired the movie). Tucker was caught plenty of times over the years, but somehow always found a way to escape. Along with pension-age accomplices Teddy (Danny Glover, always a delight, and an actor who never gets too old for this shit) and Waller (Tom Waits, whose “and that’s why I hate Christmas” story is a standout in the film), Tucker would saunter into a bank, politely ask for the manager, show him a pistol, and walk out with a satchel full of whatever cash had been in the tellers’ drawers.

Tucker and company came to be known as the Over-the-Hill Gang, and the way the movie tells it, being robbed by them was kind of a pleasure. Maybe it was. It’s certainly a pleasure to watch — almost like a seduction, or that terrific opening scene in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” where George Clooney, pretending to have a gun but in fact armed with nothing more than the twinkle in his eye and the hint of a smile, sweet-talks a nervous bank employee (female, of course) into handing over the money. That’s pretty much how Redford does it here, although when it comes to twinkles and smiles, he can run circles around even a pro like Clooney. His performance reminds what movie stars once were capable of, delivered with natural ease and nary a trace of vanity (either he no longer has a “good sides” or every angle of his now-weathered mug looks great).

For writer-director Lowery, “Old Man” is an ode to an icon — and also to a friend (his second feature, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” broke out at Sundance, the Redford-run festival that has served to make ’70s-style character-driven dramas like this still possible, and the actor played a role in his first Hollywood picture, a Disney remake of “Pete’s Dragon”). But instead of going big and giving Redford some bombastic swan song, he crafts a gracious exit that simultaneously feels like an encore of sorts. Tucker feels like someone we’ve seen before, and to an extent we have: Had the Sundance Kid survived the super-posse, he might have gone on to be this kind of bank robber. At one point late in the film, during a montage of all Tucker’s escapes, Lowery features a clip from “The Chase,” and there he is, the late-’60s golden boy, now in his very, very late 60s (technically, 82).

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