Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is unapologetic about what he is. He makes his money robbing banks, but although this is technically armed robbery, he would never dream of using his gun in these escapades, merely letting the manager or cashier know what he has on his person and allowing them to let their imaginations run wild. It's been the same for years, in and out of prison, and when he's out he cannot resist lapsing back into his old ways, always leaving those he thieves from with the feeling they're lucky to have met him. But one day, now in his seventies in 1981, he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a widow who immediately hits it off with him. A soulmate at last?
Forrest Tucker was a real criminal, though when director David Lowery came to adapting his story, he found what he wanted to make was not a detailed true crime yarn, but a proper, old school Robert Redford movie. For that reason he felt comfortable freely applying a number of opportunities for his star to twinkle in that movie star way, something Redford was still more than capable of even in his eighties (he was about a decade older than his character), and as he charms Spacek, no slouch herself in the screen charisma stakes, lest we forget, he charmed us in the audience as well. No, this was not going to be held up as an all-time classic, but did it need to be?
It was a chance for a respectful filmmaker to pay tribute to one of the golden talents of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, and when he moved into more mature roles both behind and in front of the camera, the audience stayed with him, sustaining his stardom as his profile as one of the great Hollywood liberals meant his fans were always happy to see what he was up to next, be that a light comedy thriller, a superhero flick, or something more dramatic. Redford claimed The Old Man and the Gun would be his final role since he so enjoyed himself making it that it would be nice to end his career on it, though you imagine he had such a drive to create that retirement would be difficult.
Certainly one of the hardest-working of the real superstars, Redford's role here was tailor made for his style, and he was as smooth as an octogenarian celebrity could be, maybe not as nimble as he once was, but proving he still had it, that sparkle and hold on the audience's attention. The plot as Lowery presented it was fairly basic stuff, yet crucially you could not envisage any other actor than this one in the lead: anyone else and this would not have been as convincing, nor as enjoyable, for the director had, like most of his generation, grown up seeing Redford's movies on television and knowing he was still around from the past glories was cheering, particularly when his energy appeared undimmed and his interactions with his fellow cast were both generous and complementary to himself.
The theme here could have been applied to the real Tucker: the leopard cannot change his spots, and you more or less got the point early on, well aware that this was going to showcase a career criminal who did not rob banks because he wanted to be rich, more that he was never more alive when he was carrying out a heist. With his age most prominent in his personality, the need to feel vital, that he was firing on all cylinders even in the face of those advancing years, fuelled his lawbreaking, yet his relationship with Jewel too: watching Redford and Spacek simply shooting the breeze was reminiscent of the seventies character-based pieces they both often showed up in back then. Casey Affleck was the loser detective on the case, trying to track Tucker and his gang (numbering two: Tom Waits and Danny Glover, it was a good cast) but mocked at every turn, yet you don't need telling what you would take away from this: Redford, craggy but still handsome, still charming. Music by Daniel Hart (nice and jazzy, like this film).