In what’s perhaps a strangely appropriate role, Robert Redford – in what he says might be his final foray on the big screen after an illustrious decades-long career – stars as Tucker, whose own lifelong antics on the wrong side of the law may likewise finally be winding down.
A career criminal who’s been in and out (and in and out and in and out) of jail since boyhood, and who claims to have escaped prison multiple times, Tucker is happily still plying the tools of his trade: carefully planning small-scale bank heists in middle-of-nowhere towns with his two aging pals (Danny Glover and Tom Waits). But meeting a comely ranch owner named Jewel (Sissy Spacek) starts to shift his focus: Tucker finds his heart subtly beginning to override his deep-seated addiction to the thrill of successfully robbing financial institutions.
Hot on his thieving heels, though, is aptly named police officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who’s intent (sort of) on bringing Tucker to justice (mostly)… but who also begins to develop a begrudging respect for the charming seventysomething dude still nimble enough to elude the long arm of the law. A friendly cat-and-mouse game emerges, with Tucker jovially taunting his police pursuer, but it slowly becomes clear that – one way or another, and by his own choosing or his luck simply running out – Tucker’s bank-robbing days are probably numbered.
Clocking in at a brisk 93 minutes, Old Man is very light, easy viewing – there are no edge-of-your-seat chases or high-octane sequences typical of the heist genre of late, and no jaw-dropping plot twists to turn the proceedings upside down. It’s a quick, straightforward story that goes from point A to point B without throwing any narrative wrenches into the mix.
Redford makes for a disarmingly likeable and polite lead character, a crook who’s as invested in getting his money as he is genuinely concerned about the mental well-being of the tellers he’s robbing (and, in some cases, with whom he’s also flirting). While Tucker’s romance with Jewel isn’t a steamy affair, there’s a distinctly sweet, heartwarming element to their relationship – and Spacek is the perfect fit as a smart, earthy woman who’s found contentment in a quiet life with her horses… but who’s open to being wooed by a handsome stranger with a mischievous (erm, and criminal) streak. Even Affleck, in a supporting role as the ho-hum lawman with a voice and cadence about as lively as a bucket of tar, is solid. His Hunt is, in many ways, so much older and more set in his weary ways than the sharp, peppy senior citizen he’s trying hard to catch, and the contrast works nicely.
Old Man isn’t for everyone. Anyone looking for a caper flick or heist thriller had best look elsewhere. But anyone ready to settle in for a nice, unassuming character drama about a guy squeezing the last bit of adventure out of his life will no doubt leave the theater with a smile.