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With: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Gene Jones, John David Washington, Elisabeth Moss, Keith Carradine, Ari Elizabeth Johnson, Teagan Johnson, Barlow Jacobs, Augustine Frizzell, Jennifer Joplin
Written by: David Lowery, based on the New Yorker article by David Grann
Directed by: David Lowery
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 93
Date: 10/05/2018

The Old Man & the Gun (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stealing Away

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Robert Redford, who has been a movie star of the highest calibre for more than fifty years — since films like Barefoot in the Park and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — has announced his retirement from acting.

Whether or not that claim actually sticks, one couldn't ask for a lovelier final film than The Old Man & the Gun. And, though it may sound like hyperbole after such a career, it's one of his very best.

Opening Friday in Bay Area theaters, The Old Man & the Gun is yet another "based-on-a-true-story" movie, but our writer/director, David Lowery, is not interested in hitting all the typical beats of this overpopulated genre.

Lowery's gentle, dreamy touch has graced such wonderful films as Pete's Dragon and A Ghost Story, and tends to slow things down. It nestles within, and in-between moments, rather than hitting only highlights.

In fact, Lowery barely even shows the gun of the title. This is all about the man.

It begins on one of the immaculate bank robberies committed by one Forrest Tucker (Redford). Wearing a suit and tie, a hat, and a fake mustache, he calmly walks into a bank, politely asks for the manager, shows the gun, and walks out with a bag of money.

Bystanders later describe him to the cops: he seemed like a nice guy. He seemed happy.

He escapes the law by calmly pulling over to help a stranded motorist, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), and rescuing her from her broken-down pickup truck.

He takes her for a bite at a diner, and they talk. Like Redford, Spacek is still radiant onscreen, and these two legends — who, unbelievably, have never appeared together in a film before — have wonderful chemistry.

Things change for Forrest when one of his robberies occurs while an off-duty police detective, John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is, coincidentally, in the bank with his son.

During the course of a silly, rambling "dad" joke, the robbery begins and ends, and Hunt is shocked, and, presumably mortified, to learn that it has been committed under his nose. He obsessively begins to try and solve the crime.

The Old Man & the Gun must have been a magnet to actors of every ilk. There's an enviable collection of supporting players, from Danny Glover and Tom Waits as Forest's long-term partners, to Isiah Whitlock Jr., Gene Jones, BlackKklansman star John David Washington, Elisabeth Moss, Keith Carradine, and Tika Sumpter (the future Michelle Obama in Southside with You).

Redford is the key. He's never been the edgiest of actors, and many of his most famous films are on the soft side. But in recent years, younger directors, viewing him with new eyes, have given him fresh challenges. J.C. Chandor's All is Lost challenged him in a physical way, while The Old Man & the Gun explores the nuances of his screen persona.

Redford positively glows here, thoroughly enjoying being a bank robber, as well as a legendary prison escape artist, as much as he must enjoy being an actor. (Perhaps he even sees some private connection between being a thief and an actor, perhaps in the abstract way of stealing people's lives?)

It's this sense of love, joy, wonder, magic, etc., that Lowery focuses on, more so than details of robberies, captures, or escapes. It's like a poem about a man that has found the meaning of life.

The Old Man & the Gun stumbles a little in its final stretch, rushing into a staccato of smashed-together scenes in an effort to wrap things up neatly, and it relies too much on needle-dropped pop music, rather than on the sublime soundtrack music of composer Daniel Hart.

But it's greatest flaw is that it comes off feeling a little too slight. This, however, is only an illusion. A movie about the joy of life is actually the most profound thing of all.

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