Starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover; directed by David Lowery; 93 minutes; PG-13 for brief strong language.
After announcing that “The Old Man and the Gun” would be his final acting role, Robert Redford has backtracked, and watching the film makes one grateful for the change of heart. As Forrest Tucker, an elderly bank robber with a twinkle in his eye and larceny in his soul, Redford plays to all his still-formidable strengths: subtlety, effortless charisma and looks that, though craggier and more weathered, are still irresistible.
Indeed, Redford’s inherent charms do so much of the work in “The Old Man and the Gun” that they obscure what a questionable character Tucker is. Not that writer-director David Lowery is unaware of his protagonist’s problematic side. He makes sure to give the audience room for at least a few moments of ambivalence. But for the most part, this gentle, low-key ride-along — based on a New Yorker story about a real-life career criminal — is presented as an ode to freedom, mischief and staying young.
As “The Old Man and the Gun” opens, Forrest is doing what he does best: presenting himself as a sweet old guy shuffling up to a young, female bank teller and quietly telling her to give him a satchel full of money, pointing to his inside jacket pocket as a wordless threat. It’s all very quiet and civilized, and when Forrest leads the police on a car chase, there are no squealing tires or pyrotechnics. He even comes up with an ingenious feint that has the benefit of introducing him to Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a kindhearted ranch woman with whom he embarks on a shy, teasingly endearing flirtation.
Jewel and Forrest’s dates, usually over pie and coffee, are some of the more satisfying sequences of “The Old Man and the Gun,” which lights up every time Spacek is on screen. Her blushing, responsive performance brings a spark of spontaneity to a narrative that is understated to a fault.
“The Old Man and the Gun” ambles along with such unhurried, folksy ease that it’s easy to overlook the people, mostly women, whom Tucker leaves in his wake, victims who might not be physically scarred but often look as if they will bear unseen injuries nonetheless.
Seen through yet another lens, that’s a testament to the protagonist’s manipulative skills, as well as to the disarmingly seductive gifts of the man who plays him. Sixty years into a varied and vigorous career, the kid’s still a natural.