Robert Redford, a star of the highest caliber for more than 50 years — since “Barefoot in the Park” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” — has announced his retirement from acting.
One couldn’t ask for a lovelier final film than “The Old Man & the Gun.” And though it may sound like hyperbole, after such an esteemed career, it’s one of his very best.
It’s yet another “based-on-a-true-story” movie. But writer-director David Lowery, whose source was a New Yorker article by David Grann, doesn’t hit the typical beats of this overpopulated genre.
Lowery’s gentle, dreamy touch, which graced the wonderful “Pete’s Dragon” and “A Ghost Story,” tends to slow things down, nestling within and in between moments. Lowery barely shows the gun of the title. This is all about the man.
It begins with an immaculate robbery committed by Forrest Tucker (Redford). Wearing a suit and tie, hat and fake mustache, he calmly walks into a bank, politely asks for the manager, shows the gun, and walks out with a bag of money. Bystanders describe him to the cops: He seemed like a nice guy.
He escapes the law by calmly pulling over to help a stranded motorist, Jewel (Sissy Spacek), rescuing her from her broken-down pickup truck.
He takes her for a bite at a diner, and they talk. Like Redford, Spacek is still radiant onscreen, and these two legends — who, unbelievably, have never appeared together in a film before — have wonderful chemistry.
Things change for Forrest when one of his robberies occurs while off-duty police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is, coincidentally, in the bank with his son.
During the course of a silly, rambling “dad” joke, the robbery happens; Hunt is shocked and presumably mortified to learn it was committed under his nose. He obsessively begins to try and solve the crime.
“The Old Man & the Gun” boasts an enviable collection of supporting players, from Danny Glover and Tom Waits as Forrest’s long-term partners, to Isiah Whitlock Jr., Gene Jones, “BlackKklansman” star John David Washington, Elisabeth Moss, Keith Carradine and Tika Sumpter (Michelle Obama in the upcoming “Southside with You”).
Redford is the key. Never the edgiest of actors, his most famous films are on the soft side. But recently, younger directors have given him fresh challenges. J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost” challenged him physically; “The Old Man & the Gun” explores the nuances of his screen persona.
Redford positively glows here, thoroughly enjoying being a bank robber and a legendary prison escape artist as much as he must enjoy being an actor. (Perhaps he even sees some private connection between being a thief and an actor, in the abstract way of stealing people’s lives?)
Lowery focuses on this sense of love, joy, wonder and magic more than the details of robberies, captures or escapes. The movie is like a poem about a man who has found the meaning of life.
It stumbles a little in its final stretch, rushing into a staccato of smashed-together scenes in an effort to wrap things up neatly, and relies too much on needle-dropped pop music rather than the sublime soundtrack by composer Daniel Hart.
Its greatest flaw is that it comes off feeling a little too slight. But it’s only an illusion: A movie about the joy of life is actually the most profound thing of all.
The Old Man & the Gun
Three and a half stars
Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tom Waits
Written and directed by: David Lowery
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes