THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

Producer: James D. Stern, Dawn Ostroff, Jeremy Steckler, Anthony Mastromauro, Bill Holderman, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston and Robert Redford
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Stars: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Tika Sumpter, Ari Elisabeth Johnson, Teagan Johnson, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., John David Washington, Elisabeth Moss, Keith Carradine, and Gene Jones
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

B

David Lowery’s newest is a modest but engaging tale of larceny and late-life love, based on a true story. But “The Old Man & the Gun” is also reportedly the last movie that screen icon Robert Redford intends to act in. If that turns out to be so, it’s a graceful swan song, allowing him to play another version of the charming rogue he embodied in early pictures like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting.” It also gives him the opportunity to be a romantic lead one more time.

In the screenplay Lowery has confected, rather loosely at times, from a New Yorker article by David Grann, Redford plays Forrest Tucker, an elderly gentleman who has been robbing banks—and repeatedly escaping from jails and prisons—ever since he was a teen. His latest jobs—often aided by his equally geriatric chums Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), who together will be dubbed The Over-the-Hill Gang—come to the attention of worn-out Dallas detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck, nicely embodying the guy’s shaggy-dog persona), who was actually in one of the banks while it was being robbed and connects the series of small-time heists in small branches (and often small towns) to detect the pattern of Tucker’s latest work.

Meanwhile, while fleeing his most recent job Tucker takes the time to stop to offer his assistance to Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow whose truck has broken down on the highway. He can’t do much, admitting that he knows nothing of engines, but he does drive her into town, where they wind up in a booth at a diner and begin to talk. Before long they’ll be spending time together, sometimes at her ranch.

That doesn’t stop him from working, though, but now he and his pals are in the spotlight, and Hunt doggedly tracks down every possible lead, eventually identifying Tucker as the main suspect. It will all come to a head when the feds get involved and the gang pulls a job that’s bigger than their usual efforts, but not before some lovely scenes between Forrest and Jewel, a curious meeting between Tucker and Hunt, and a final roundup, complete with a car chase. Lowery leaves us with a montage of the escapes Tucker claims to have made over the years—sixteen in all, with perhaps another to follow—in the course of which he illustrates one of them with a clip of the golden-haired Redford in a jailbird outfit from Arthur Penn’s “The Chase” (1966). It makes a fine farewell tribute to the star, if that’s what it will turn out to be.

When one stops to think about it, there really isn’t much to “The Old Man & the Gun.” The plot is fairly rudimentary, and even the title sounds plain and unadorned. It’s the telling that makes the film special. Lowery is adept at taking material that seems simple and infusing it with unexpected depth—witness “A Ghost Story,” or even his live-action remake of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon.” He does the same here, complementing Tucker’s story with that of Jewel, whom Spacek plays with beautiful yearning that hides an aching vulnerability, and Hunt, whose family life with his supportive wife Maureen (Tika Sumpter) and their kids Abilene (Ari Elizabeth Johnson) and Tyler (Teagan Johnson) serves as a counterpoint to his restless professional work—and to the relationship Forrest forges with Jewel.

The film has been made with a minimum of technical flourish. The locations in Ohio and Texas have a grittily authentic look, and production designer Scott Kuzio and costumer Annell Brodeur capture the period feel—the story is set in the early eighties—without exaggeration (even if Affleck’s hairstyle is definitely of the era). John Anderson’s cinematography, unfussy in terms of camera movement, mimics the appearance of films of the time, too, utilizing Super 16mm film, and Lisa Zeno Churgin’s editing paces the film unhurriedly while keeping it to a trim hour-and-a-half –a nice reflection of the protagonist’s unrushed, genteel style.

For most viewers, of course, the main attraction here will be Redford, who, like his director (with whom he worked in “Dragon,” just as Affleck did in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Ghost Story”), never pushes too hard, allowing Tucker’s charm to emerge without forcing it. It’s a reprise of the sort of performance the actor has given many times before, reminding us of what has made him a star for so long without turning the movie into a self-conscious homage to him.

“The Old Man & the Gun” won’t blow you away with action and tension; it’s not designed to. It simply affords you the opportunity to spend some time with an old friend, doing what he’s done so well in the past. If it does prove Redford’s final film as an actor, it provides him with an ingratiating exit from the stage.