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'The Old Man & the Gun': Robert Redford Steals Hearts

The Sundance Kid rides again in the true tale of a goodhearted bank robber who refused to retire

Rating: PG-13

Run time: 1 hour 33 minutes

Stars: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Casey Affleck

Director: David Lowery

If ever there was a movie about the transient pleasure of enjoying what you do best in this life, it’s the Robert Redford vehicle The Old Man & the Gun. Oscar winner Redford, 82, plays 76-year-old Forrest Tucker. A real-life bank robber profiled by the New Yorker's David Grann in 2003, Tucker continued to steal from the rich well past the time when he should have received social security. 

Adapted and directed by young gun David Lowery, 37, who impressed Redford at the Sundance Film Festival with 2013's Ain't Them Bodies Saints, this lanky and entertaining 1980s-set crime comedy shows that if you find something that you're good at, and enjoy, there's no reason to retire. And in Tucker's case, there’s no jail capable of keeping you from pursuing your thieving bliss, including San Quentin. Not when you can use the prison shop to build a bathtub-like escape boat named “Rub a Dub Dub.”

Redford has gone back and forth about whether this is his last film or not. If it's his swan song, it's a beauty. In contrast to his straining, athletic, I'm-still-a-force-to-be-reckoned-with performance in J. C. Chandor's 2013 solo-sailing-disaster drama All is Lost, this role displays the actor's unique talent for making star power appear effortless. A kindred spirit to Redford's legendary Sundance Kid, Tucker is a handsome, all-American male who's so charming that those he robs remember him as pleasant and reassuring during their confrontation.       

Filling out this wonderfully loose-limbed film, which avoids the forced tension of many heist movies, is Casey Affleck, 43, as Texas detective John Hunt, a lawman with ennui. The closer he approaches his quarry (Tucker), the more focused he becomes — but also the more enamored and appreciative of this rogue who (unlike him) loves his work and engages with the strangers around him.          

One of the film's biggest delights — more fiction than fact — is the gentlemanly romance he engages in with widowed rancher Jewel (Sissy Spacek, 68). Their meet-cute occurs while he is speeding away from a bank with cops in pursuit. Tucker pulls over to rescue her from a truck breakdown on the highway shoulder as the police stream past. He knows nothing about fixing cars, but he knows a lot about rescues. Seat the pair across a booth at a diner, and it's a master class in how romance can spark in the simple pleasures of two mature adults getting acquainted, well before the first kiss.

Also on hand are Danny Glover, 72, and Tom Waits, 68, as Tucker's worse-for-wear partners in what the media calls the Over-the-Hill Gang (fit counterparts to the Sundance Kid’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang). Both performers drift in and out of the criminal action, with Waits getting a wonderful, drifty soliloquy on why his character hates Christmas.

But it's Redford’s solo act that resonates, reflected in a bouncing country-road car chase where the greenbacks go flying like leaves out of his sedan under golden light, and the thief puts the pedal to the metal, followed by a flock of cop cars. Getting caught may be inevitable, but that moment of adrenalized speed and freedom? Priceless.

To quote Tucker: “I’m exactly where I want to be.” And so is the grownup audience riding shotgun.

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