The opening scenes of The Old Man With the Gun set the tone as David Lowery manages to butcher the genuinely interesting true story of Forest Tucker. A man who escaped prison a measly sixteen times (according to him at least) and robbed countless banks for most of his life, always with a smile, is a fascinating criminal tale. Especially as he continued to hone his craft into his 60s and 70s.
Unfortunately, in Robert Redford’s last acting role, this story has somehow been transformed into a romantic Sunday afternoon feel-good flick. This is barely a crime-film, hell, it isn’t a heist film. The bank-jobs are a background figure as the romantic story takes the lead. Unlike Redford’s near flawless performance, it is anything but memorable.
The aforementioned opening scenes are awfully cliched as Forest meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whose car happens to have broken down at the side of the road, conveniently timed as he has just robbed a bank. He pulls over to help her, and of course as he strolls to her car, police cars fly by. As soon as they start talking, the road the film is driving down is sadly obvious.
What could have been a fascinating character study of a man who wasn’t living if he wasn’t robbing banks is no more than a lackluster film akin to a field of fluffy kittens. Redford is incredible, but the script he is given to work with is laughable at best, cringeworthy at worst, with very few interesting moments.
His personality and story is skipped over so immensely that the final act drags and seem to have multiple endings as Lowery makes sure to extend the incredibly thin film barely past the 90-minute mark. The same treatment of Forest can be said about Casey Affleck’s character John Hunt, a cop determined to stop him. Another cardboard cutout and nothing more, much like Jewel. He is a family man and this case reignites an increasing apathy towards his job; the latter a character trait that isn’t expanded on. As for Jewel, she simply serves as a love interest and nothing more.
With an elderly character who dresses smart, scopes out and then robs banks with incredible attention to detail, distraction and charm while in the moment of the heist, this should have been a dark and/or dry comedy if not opting for action and/or tension. But alas, no.
In fact the ‘comedy’ that is on offer is, in a word, lame. There is no kind way to put it. These what-if stype scenarios stem from a nugget or two of interesting conversations about how to execute the perfect job, as well as the only heist shown in any kind of detail, which is somewhat memorable and possesses the additional interest of being based in the 70’s where relevant technology was in its infancy, surely advanced for the period. Not to mention that such an interesting story is skipped over in such a thorough matter to be replaced by a romantic comedy.
The few positive qualities are unfortunately though unsurprisingly unevenly balanced by the negative: it is played for a few laughs with little relevance to Forest Tucker’s story. The majority of the heist aspects have also been done before, and far better, making it more confusing as to why the opposing characters of Forest and Hunt aren’t explored in any depth beyond that of a wading pool. A shame, a waste of a good story and of a fantastic actor’s final role.
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