The Old Man and The Gun (2018)
Written & Directed by David Lowrey
When I discovered the films of Robert Altman while in college, I found myself wanting to consume them all for the mood they created. The atmosphere of these pictures is leisurely with plots that never get overly complicated. What takes up the runtime are the characters, fully textured and realized as humans that don’t fall into the hero/villain tropes. This was a common theme in much of American cinema in the 1970s, slow-paced character-focused stories. David Lowrey and his crew manage to recapture that feeling so perfectly that this is a nostalgic film that could easily be mistaken as a picture from the late 1970s/early 80s.
Forrest Tucker has been a criminal and an escape artist for his entire life. Now in his early 70s, he shows no signs of slowing down. Tucker loves robbing banks, and he does so with charm and politeness, so much so that when interviewed by the police afterward, the bank employees recall him with fondness. Tucker stops to help Jewel, an older woman having truck trouble on the roadside. There’s a flirtation, and they go for coffee, that attraction growing. They’ve both been through life and taken their knocks and are in a final act which is somewhat uncertain.
Meanwhile, Houston detective John Hunt has just turned forty and ends up on a bank robbery case that connects him with Tucker. Hunt is in a malaise, mostly working at a desk with no significant commendations. He’s just sort of going through the paces until he retires.
Lowrey has created a beautiful, humanistic story that never passes judgment on any character and simply allows them to live and breathe in still moments. Humor comes out of their interactions, and everything feels smooth and fluid. There’s never any onscreen shooting and Tucker prefers to never use his gun. He only pulls it once when on the run from the police, holding a woman at gunpoint the drive him away and immediately regretting his actions. The money Tucker steals is stashed under the floorboards of his house, where it gathers dust unspent as he looks to the next job.
Lowrey doesn’t let Tucker off the hook entirely though. We meet his estranged daughter, now grown and whom Tucker has never reached out to. She’s resentful of how he treated her mother and reaches out to the police to provide some backstory. There’s never a moment where we’re intended to see her as an antagonist, merely providing the other side of the bank robber’s actions, of the family left behind when they needed him. At the same time, the film ponders the question of what should we do when our natural compulsions lead us down a path. I would argue that what Tucker does hurts no one because he’s clearly not going to shoot anyone if a robbery goes wrong. The money is insured, so the patrons are covered so at most some corporate bank stooges are out a bit.
David Lowrey continues to perplex me as a filmmaker. I found myself loving A Ghost Story which I anticipated I’d dislike while hating Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a movie I expected to enjoy. The Old Man and The Gun is definitely part of the Ghost Story camp, a showcase of fantastic filmmaking. I think it helps that Casey Affleck, as John Hunt, is a supporting role and the show belongs to Robert Redford as Tucker. Affleck was too prominent in Saints which hurt that movie tremendously. Here he gets to play someone a little muted which suits his style more. Though this is primarily a Redford vehicle, a final bow on a prolific career.