I am sorry to say that I didn't write down the exact phrasing, but The Old Man & the Gun opens with a title card that reads something along the lines of "This story, also, is mostly true". And what the hell do we make of that? "Also" compared to what? This is literally the first piece of communication the film has given us. And then the film's opening credits start, and they are in the font

And both of these things point in exactly the same direction, which is to the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That film opened by declaring "Most of what follows is true" before presenting its own titles in the same font. And if you don't know that, The Old Man & the Gun isn't ever going to get around to telling you, while if you do know that, the film is very excited that you and it are on the exact same page, which is that Robert Redford (the Sundance Kid himself), now he's just absolutely terrific, right? And we all love him and are so happy he's still alive to be an old-fashioned movie star and remind us of all the great movies he made in the '70s, right?

I mean, as it so happens, I agree with the film on all points, but I'm not quite sure what would have happened if I didn't. For no reason other than the most superficial one, I find myself wanting to compare the movie to last year's Lucky, another unabashed love letter to an old actor: while that movie wasn't any more interested than this one in doing anything but gawking in admiration at its star, it did at least do the work of demonstrating why Harry Dean Stanton was a treasure. The Old Man & the Gun merely assumes that we already know this of Redford and would never go to the bother of disagreeing.

Anyway, it's probably surely to take the film to task for suggesting that one of the most enjoyably, effortlessly charismatic actors in the last half-century of world cinema has enjoyable charisma. The Old Man & the Gun is trying to do virtually nothing other than remind its ideal viewer of things that viewer already likes, and it accordingly has very little in the way of actual aesthetic goals or narrative interest. But it is likable, as affable and breezy as its main character, Forrest Tucker, a man whose entire adult life was spent A) robbing banks; B) going to prison; C) escaping prison; A) robbing banks. In the movie's telling, at least, Forrest does this not because he is greedy or antisocial or anything else; he does it because robbing banks is his cherished hobby, and you don't give up on a hobby, especially when you're good at it. Even the people who robs consider him more of a mildly eccentric old gentlemanly sort, and the only person who seems to actually want him brought to justice is police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who spends the whole film in a state of low annoyance. Meanwhile, Forrest takes to flirting with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), who doesn't quite know whether or not to believe him when he tells her the truth about this sordid past, but is happy to flirt right back either way.

The action takes place in 1983 (when the real Tucker was 63; the film has a fairly unconcerned relationship with solid facts), but the film's sights go back a good eight or ten years earlier than that. Writer-director David Lowery clearly means for this to be not just a tribute to the grand career of Redford himself, but also to the cultural context in which he did most of his best-regarded work, the New Hollywood era of the 1970s. And so pretty much every aspect of the film's style is oriented towards that period: obviously the cinematography by Joe Anderson, which has the thick grains and hard color saturation of film stock from that decade, but also the relatively slowed-down speed of cutting, and the fuzzed-out sound mixing. Even the color scheme of the credits, goldenrod on royal blue, is designed to maximise the film's authenticity to the period of filmaking that was just ending around the year the film was set.

Weirdly, or maybe charmingly, it's not trying to evoke the canonical classics of the era, be they Redford vehicles or otherwise. Rather, it seems to be the low-key ones, the ones that suburban dads across America describe as "pretty good" and stop to watch when they show up on cable on a Sunday afternoon, but otherwise have largely fallen out of anybody's cultural radar. It's too affable and disinterested in conflict to be anything else - like, actively disinterested in conflict. Partially because the way Redford plays Forrest, all weathered grins and "aw shucks" line deliveries, it's hard to believe he'd actually be that upset by anything, and certainly going back to prison because of the hard work of a kid like John wouldn't be that big of a deal. Partially because the film so carefully de-activates any tension; any time Jewel has cause to feel unpleasantly towards Forrest, the film finds a way to iron it out within a scene or two, and Spacek doesn't really try to make it last any longer. Also, the film's single most tense scene, a car chase, has all of its danger pointedly defused by the pointedly unhurried use of Jackson C. Frank's pensive, drowsy 1965 single "Blues Run the Game" over the entirety of the setpiece. Which maybe makes it a touch sad and lonesome, but certainly not exciting.

I suppose all of that makes it sound like I'm complaining, and insofar as "there is nothing vaguely new, original, surprising, or insightful" is a complaint, I am. But the thing about The Old Man & the Gun is, it's just so damn nice. It exists basically to give Redford and Spacek a chance to trot around the track a few times, take a few bows, and remind us all of how enormously pleasant it is to watch old pros pass easy challenges by a much larger margin than they have to. They're both giving excellent performances, warm and lived-in, comfortable with their age and bodies, eagerly lustful despite those bodies; they're also facing some of the lowest difficulty levels of any role I could imagine wanting to hand to an actor of Redford or Spacek's prominence. Still, the excellence comes to the fore more than the easiness does, and these people have been movie stars for decades for a very good reason, one that Lowery's carefully edge-free approach to this material has been precisely designed to accentuate. It doesn't offer surprises because it doesn't want to: it wants to give us all a concentrated dose of Redford and Spacek while they're still around to bless us with their presence. That's unarguably a modest goal, but the film absolutely nails it, and with just enough of a sense of the hazy atmosphere that's Lowery's best strength as a director for it to not feel completely disposable. Plus it's only 93 minutes, and there are a hell of a lot of worse ways to spend 93 minutes than being charmed and amused by a pair of amazing old pros.