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Robert Redford goes out in a blaze of glory in The Old Man & the Gun

Cinema legend Robert Redford signs off with style and sophistication in this tale of gentleman bank robber Forrest Tucker.

For 50 years, we’ve been charmed and wooed by the porcelain smile, charisma, and effortless suavity of Robert Redford. Now, he gives his final performance, in The Old Man & the Gun. Allegedly, anyway.

The subtle charm and gentle cheek of the film are on display from the first title card: “This story is mostly true.” Adapted from a 2003 New Yorker profile and set in the American south in the mid-80s, Redford plays Bob. Or rather, that’s the name he gives to Jewel (Sissy Spacek) as he bends under the hood of her broken-down truck until a parade of screaming cop cars passes by.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

In reality, his name is Forrest Tucker, serial conman and thief. He’s just stiffed a bank with nothing but a smile. The gun kept in his jacket pocket stays holstered. His stick-ups – and prison escapes – seem to be a compulsion. He’s just unable to resist emptying cash drawers.

Throughout, he’s unfailingly debonair and polite. “You’re doing a great job,” Tucker grins to a sobbing teller as she rams bills into a bag. “He was sort of a gentleman,” one bank manager quips to investigating cop Detective Hunt, played by Casey Affleck, who is almost the antithesis of Redford and the one let-down of the film.

A cameo from the always-brilliant Elisabeth Moss, playing Tucker’s daughter, suggests his lifelong spree has left resentment in its wake, but his crimes are (mostly) victimless.

Director David Lowery apes the stylistic tricks of Redford’s heyday in the 60s and 70s, using 16mm grain, slow zooms and an unhurried pace. It’s a story that any other director would tell as a desperate perpetual chase, yet Lowery conjures a gentleness and intimacy between Redford and Spacek.

Knowing that this will probably be Redford’s final outing, Lowery imbues the picture with nostalgia and poignancy. Of course, like Tucker, Redford’s career is coming to an end. Self-awareness enters the frame: a send-off, a final goodbye. The camera lingers on Redford’s crease-lined face as he gazes across a pastoral idyll. A look of pure satisfaction passes over his features, as if he were surveying an accomplished life and saw much to be proud of.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★★

This article was first published in the November 24, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.