Robert Redford’s “The Old Man & the Gun” Shoots a Blank [Movie Review]
Robert Redford’s final film, “The Old Man & the Gun,” is a colossal disappointment. It’s awful. The movie legend deserved a far better swan song.
Robert Redford won’t be remembered as a great movie actor. But those of us of a certain age who have been around long enough to have feasted on Redford’s lengthy career are certain to cherish him as a film icon who’s been justly cast in many of the most memorable movies we’ve enjoyed for more than a half-century. If you were born before 1970, you grew up watching Redford. Like what John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart represented to previous generations, he was a part of our lives.
Redford’s announcement a few months ago that he would make one final feature film before his retirement from the silver screen triggered much anticipation and even loftier expectations that his last movie role would be something special to remember. Given the extraordinary characters he’s played over the past 60 years on film — Johnny Hooker, Roy Hobbs, the Sundance Kid, Bob Woodward, Henry Brubaker, Hubbell, Jay Gatsby, Waldo Pepper, Bill McKay, Jeremiah Johnson, to name just a few — Redford’s final curtain call demanded both a triumphant and misty-eyed ride off into the cinematic sunset. He sure earned it and moreover — we deserved it.
Inexplicably, The Old Man & the Gun is Redford’s chosen swan song. It’s the quirky tongue-in-cheek tale of a 70-year-old senior who just so happens to rob banks for a living. Based (very loosely) on the real-life story of Forest Tucker, a career criminal who was in and out of prison for most of his life (and escaped numerous times), the movie concentrates mostly on a brief stretch during the early 1980s when Tucker robbed dozens of banks — mostly in Texas, the South, and the Midwest.
Redford, who’s 80 now, is perfectly fine playing what amounts to himself. No one will begrudge either the casting or the performance. Redford exudes his usual authentic charm, which is impossible to mask, even in a film about a man who’s committing serious crimes. Accordingly, the filmmakers don’t even attempt to camouflage the star’s natural appeal. Instead, they flaunt the hell out of it to the point of ridiculousness, obliterating any aim at realism.
Sadly, Redford is never believable as the bank teller’s Public Enemy #1. Each heist he pulls isn’t a thrill, but a folly. Redford does nothing more than walk into small banks dressed up in a hat while wearing a fake mustache, demands money, and then leaves. There’s no sense of danger. We know he won’t get shot. Never has bank robbery been so tediously anemic on film.
So many things are wrong with The Old Man & the Gun that it’s impossible to know exactly where to begin. Let’s start at the top to get to the bottom of this mess, with David Lowery, who wrote and directed this calamity. Appalling slow-paced and mindlessly boring for multiple stretches of time, how this film made it past the first-pitch stage without a massive overhaul, is baffling.
Consider and try to imagine this one scene where a police detective assigned to the robbery case, played by mumbling half-shaven Casey Affleck, comes home after a long day at the office. Affleck walks into a dark house, goes straight to the fridge, pops open a cold beer, leans up against the wall, and then perhaps 20 seconds later his wife walks in and he says, “hi.” This scene takes about a minute, and then abruptly ends. There’s no point to it. If scenes like this somehow made the final cut, I can’t possibly imagine what’s on the cutting room floor. Half the movie is pretty much like that — people sitting around mumbling to themselves and each other, doing nothing.
Aside from one actor, who shall be addressed in a moment, the film’s supporting cast is given absolutely nothing to work with. And I do mean, nothing. Redford teams up with a few pals on some of the robberies. These felon friends include Danny Glover, who’s usually marvelous on film, and singer-songwriter Tom Waits in a rare film appearance, who might have been terrific were he given even a tiny morsel of dialogue to work with. Both of these sidekicks are utterly anonymous and uninteresting. It’s the most appalling misuse of talent I’ve witnessed in any film this year. Astoundingly awful.
Casey Affleck is equally dreadful attempting to play the Dallas police detective. Popeye Doyle, he is not. Given his work ethic, had Affleck been working the JFK Assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald might be laying on a beach somewhere sipping Pina Coladas. Surely, Affleck will go down as the most undeserving Best Actor winner in Oscar history. He’s yet to prove he belongs in the leading-man big-box office role. This lame performance will do nothing to spike his stock, although one can’t really blame Affleck, Glover, Tom Waits or anyone else for wanting to appear in Redford’s last movie. It’s an offer anyone in Hollywood would accept. Let’s be kind and say the supporting cast deserved much better material.
The lone exception to this otherwise dreadful film that does seem much longer than the 93 minutes as advertised is the fine performance by Sissy Spacek. I’ve never been particularly fond of Spacek on film, although I do respect her talents. In this film, playing a lonely older lady trying to maintain her ranch with perhaps one last chance at love, Spacek falls for the mysterious gentleman who treats her so kindly. Spacek’s performance isn’t impressive for its grandiosity, but rather its gentle subtlety. Her facial reactions and gazing looks during routine moments of conversation are something to marvel, especially for those who want to see actors at the top of their craft. Rarely does an actor steal away a scene in silence, merely reacting to the words spoken by another actor, but Spacek manages to do precisely this, which is really a testament to her talents given the woeful void of dialogue content.
I won’t spoil the movie for those who may go and see it, despite my dire warnings to the contrary. However, that said, Redford-the-robber’s actions throughout the film are often inexplicable and downright illogical. He continues on with his life of crime, yet we’re given no explanation as to his motives, nor do we know what he does with all the stolen money. At the risk of ruining any faint flicker of suspense for readers, these questions aren’t answered in the movie. Anyone expecting a resolution these questions may end up instead hollering angrily at the screen. Fortunately, when I hurled by verbal expletives, the theatre was pretty much empty, except for my wife, who was equally disappointed and hurled almost as many expletives.
Finally, The Old Man & the Gun commits the egregious sin reinforcing absurd stereotyping. Much of the story is supposed to take place in Dallas in 1981, yet it was shot in Dayton, which looks about as much like Dallas as Des Moines resembles San Francisco. I lived in Dallas for years, including the early 1980’s, and nothing here mirrors what I remember. The film set looks like Mayberry RFD, with dusty desks and cowboy boots. There are more fake drawls and bushy bad mustaches in this movie to make a sequel to Blazing Saddles. It’s painful to watch.
For a film that lacked any emotion or cohesion, I felt both anger and discord as the final credits of Redford’s movie career rolled. Why he picked this film as his last was the only mystery that lingers. Everything else in The Old Man & the Gun is instantly forgettable.
This may be the most disappointing movie of the year.
An Old Man and a Gun
Grade: 1.5 on a 10 scale
“Do Not See This Movie” is my Recommendation. A borderline walk out, which would have been a walkout without Robert Redford.