The Old Man and the Gun has its problems, but like the titular Old Man in the middle of a bank heist, it charmed me almost enough to get away with it.
The film follows the Over-The-Hill gang and their leader Forrest Tucker, a serial bank thief who, according to himself, sprung out of prison “18 times successfully and 12 times unsuccessfully.” He’s exactly what you want out of a Robert Redford protagonist. He’s charming, humbly brilliant at what he does and, though he never comes right out and says it, more philosopher-thief than just some straight up-and-down thief.
Beginning with the opening title screen proclaiming “This, also, is mostly true”, it’s pretty clear throughout that this isn’t just a tribute to it’s supposedly-retiring star Robert Redford (so I don’t believe it. Sue me) but also Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid director George Roy Hill and, certainly, writer William Goldman.
And as far as love-letters go, this is just fine, but it’s also not much more than that. It feels, in a lot of ways, to be a love letter to the two people that, if fate were kinder, would be behind the wheel. You could almost call it fan-service for the kind of people who miss the rich film grain, the warm colours, the dreamlike look of streetlights on celluloid, the capital-r Romantic characters of films like Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, The Great Waldo Pepper and Cool Hand Luke.
A line from the trailer, “I’m not talkin’ bout makin’ a living, I’m talkin’ ‘bout living,” is as worthy of canonization as “What we have here is a failure to communicate!” or “I’ve got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals,” but is betrayed by the film. Being left to a tertiary character we meet once, played over a flashback, the line comes and goes so quickly you could well miss it. The heart of the film lies in that line and, along with a lot of other things, The Old Man and The Gun seems to forget that. The film is full of would-be emotional moments that it just hasn’t a clue what to do with.
I haven’t seen a night scene look as beautiful as they do in this film in a long time, and the deft use of music reminds me a great deal of Hal Ashby. Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Tom Waits and, of course, Robert Redford all give fantastic performances. The dialogue is, for the most part, sharp and pointed. But yet the film falls flat, a selection of interesting pieces rather than a captivating whole. A great film is never just the sum of its parts, but an okay film always is.
The Old Man and the Gun is in limited release from 15 November 2018.