By RANDAL C. HILL
“Just before Forrest Tucker turned 79, he went to work for the last time.” So opens New Yorker writer David Grann’s 2003 article, “The Old Man and the Gun,” a true-life profile of a charismatic lawbreaker and his daring escape from San Quentin.
On September 28th, director David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun arrives from Fox Searchlight Pictures. It’s a film that offers viewers a closeup look at Tucker as portayed by Robert Redford, now 82, in what is reputed to be his swan song role.
Lowery gives us a perfectly cast trifecta of Oscar winners: Redford (Ordinary People), Spacek, 68 (Coal
Miner’s Daughter) and Casey Affleck, 43 (Manchester by the Sea), as well as solid supporting roles from
Danny Glover, 72, Tika Sumpter, 38, and the always quirky Tom Waits, 68.
Lowery enthuses, “It’s just been a thrill to team up with so many legends and heroes in telling this wild
and wooly tale.”
The movie isn’t wild and wooly in the traditional Hollywood sense—Redford isn’t
leaping off any cliffs as he did in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Rather, Lowery’s understated period piece is based on Grann’s nonfiction narrative about the six-decade career criminal.
During his lifetime, Tucker, who was first jailed at 15, managed to slip out of prisons 18 times— including, at age 70, from notorious San Quentin via a
handmade kayak. By the year 2000, he had successfully pulled off a hard-to-imagine string of heists (and a few marriages along the way) that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.
In The Old Man and the Gun, we also meet an obsessive detective named John Hunt (Affleck), who is hot on the trail of the oldster, though Hunt respects
Tucker’s commitment to his craft. (Tucker always felt that robbing a bank properly was an art form.)
Then there’s Jewel (Spacek), Tucker’s third and final wife who, despite her husband’s chosen profession, adores the still-dapper gentleman whose omnipresent hearing aid is actually a police scanner wired through his shirt.
As Tucker and Jewel settle into a genteel Florida retirement community, the sly scofflaw still yearns for the adrenaline rush of carrying out just one more
perfectly executed job.
The Old Man and the Gun showcases a man of few regrets, unusual perhaps when considering his line of work. When told that surely there had been a better way
to make a living, the incomparable Tucker responds, “I’m not talkin’ about makin’ a living; I’m just talkin’ about livin’.”