I have no particular criticism of The Man and the Gun, except maybe this, something it seems few people want to say: Robert Redford, now 82, is basically coasting. And he’s coasting on . . . well, being Robert Redford. He’s got a pleasant, quiet demeanor in all of his roles of recent years (Pete’s Dragon, A Walk In the Woods, All Is Lost) and doesn’t deviate much from that, always feeling more like “old Robert Redford” plunked into a story rather than allowing himself to get lost in truly distinct characters.
He seems to be a great guy, though, and in Redford’s case that seems to count for a lot. And here we get back to his coasting. Perhaps he realizes that’s been the case, as this reportedly is to be his last role before retiring from acting. He’s been at it for 58 years. He’s had a good run.
As very late-career roles go, The Old Man and the Gun is a perfectly acceptable one. It’s a fairly quiet story, with its share of charms, far from flashy, even shot in the style of its early-eighties setting. This is the story of Forrest Tucker, a lifelong criminal who spent his last lawbreaking years with a string of Texas bank robberies. To a much lesser extent, it’s also the story of his two frequent accomplices, played with welcome presence by Danny Glover and Tom Waits.
Forrest also meets a quasi-love interest, right in the opening sequence of the film, during his getaway from the bank heist underway when director and co-writer David Lowery first introduces him to us. This is the solitary lady whose kids have grown and gone, and now she lives on her large tract of land with tree horses, named Jewel — played by Sissy Spacek, by far the best performance in the movie. And even she is pretty even-keeled, but Spacek has a knack for a sort of comforting warmth. Her Jewel barely has any kind of internal struggles, yet she feels like the most fully realized character here. Even with her characteristic southern drawl, Spacek is very believable as completely different people.
As Forrest barely keeps his criminal antics a secret from Jewel, there’s a cop on his heels, John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Forrest sees John on local TV announcing his dedication to catching him, and decides to engaged in a bit of subtle trickery with him, a playful bit of cat and mouse.
There is a level of fun and charm to all this, albeit with a definitive lack of depth or insight into any of these characters. Lowery presents this story with a sensibility that says, “Isn’t this a great story,” and little else. The cast is competent with limited material.
There’s something to it being intended as a man’s final role, on the other hand. Redford is hardly going out with a bang here, but neither is he quite going out with a whimper. Not exactly a triumph and not exactly a failure, The Man and the Gun is executed with a quiet confidence. It has nothing in particular to prove, and neither does Robert Redford. They don’t have to, really. This is an old man having the kind of fun an old man can have — without straining himself. It’s tempting to say the same of Forrest Tucker himself, except that he clearly over-extends himself. But instead of showing anything that might require much in the way of action, The Old Man and the Gun just edits it out, and we catch up with its characters just as the are recovering.
This is a movie that is generally pleasant, with a fair share of charms, and no interest in getting intellectual about the proceedings, which it could have done well with. Lowery, and Redford, could have had something clear to say about the aging of a man who never truly matures, but they couldn’t be bothered. But who says every story has to be a challenge, anyway? Sometimes a person just wants to have a last bit of harmless fun.