It's no slight against writer-director David Lowery's breezy crime story The Old Man & the Gun that nothing in the film measures up to its opening scenes, which find Robert Redford, as a courtly bank robber, sitting down at a cafe with Sissy Spacek, who plays the widow he's quite literally picked up while making a getaway. The two talk and flirt, both cagey yet curiously open, beaming at each other one moment and fighting to stay poker-faced the next. In this enchanting, leisurely opening, the stars aren't just reminding us of why we've loved them before -- they're giving us reason to love them anew.
The film is set in '81, and Lowery seems to be documenting this restless period rather than just evoking it. Redford plays Forrest Tucker, a septuagenarian stickup man who twinkles at the tellers and managers. We see him work his routine many times, in a montage less hurried than full scenes are in today's blockbusters.
Tucker and his crew cross the country hitting small banks and heading toward the big score that will fund their retirements. Except we know that Tucker won't and can't ever stop. They're pursued by a Dallas cop (Casey Affleck) who is humiliated not to have noticed, while waiting in line at his local branch, that Tucker was robbing the joint.
Outside of that diner opening, the cast is mostly inhabiting types rather than embodying characters. Rather than a tragic inevitability or a comic detachment, the final scenes have about them the whiff of resignation, possibly meaningful or possibly not. Bonus points for Tom Waits, as a wild-card member of a bank-robbing crew, telling a bleakly funny story involving a break-in and a Christmas tree.