Director: David Lowery
Stars: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck
The idea of legacies have haunted David Lowery’s work lately. In 2017’s A Ghost Story, deceased Casey Affleck was sent careering through his own life and love, covered up by a white sheet. The Old Man & The Gun, written and directed by Lowery and based on a New Yorker article, may come to stand as a late (sometimes great) career summation for its star and producer Robert Redford. He is mooted to be retiring, which would be a shame. Though he has slowed, he has still remained active in Hollywood, either adding a little (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) or a lot (All Is Lost) to the projects he’s chosen.
The Old Man & The Gun is perfect for Redford, and he is more-or-less perfect in it. The story takes place in 1981. Lowery shoots on film to get the grain just-so. The look, feel and production all have an agreeable 70’s hangover about them. Redford plays the gentile Forrest Tucker, well dressed in his blue suit. He smiles and compliments people. With a twinkle in his eye he has an easy, affable charm. And he robs banks. A lot of banks. Sometimes alone with a concealed gun he’s probably never had to fire, sometimes with the aid of two buddies, Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). He doesn’t particularly seem to need the money (which is dropped into a crawl space in his house). He does it because he enjoys it. It makes him feel alive.
One day, while being pursued by the cops, Redford pulls over to help a woman having car trouble. That woman is Jewel (Sissy Spacek). Ever the gentlemen, he takes her to a diner. You could have 90 minutes of these two talking and it’d be a fine movie. Redford and Spacek are in step together immediately and Lowery makes their growing bond the sweet centre of his film, which though slight, still feels prone to sprawl.
Any half-decent heist movie needs both a criminal and a cop, and here we find Casey Affleck as the aptly-named John Hunt. A slightly shabby iteration of Mark Ruffalo’s turn in Zodiac, Affleck is fine here. He plays Hunt as begrudgingly respectful and even amused by Tucker, which is in keeping with the very casual tone conjured throughout. Still, Affleck’s screen time quickly begins to feel like an encroachment on Redford’s. The narrative split makes sense, but Redford and Spacek are so good together that one gets greedy, wishing for more.
Tucker takes Jewel to the movies. Given Lowery’s deft and wry feathering of old footage of Redford to infill flashbacks, I had half expected to find them watching one of his own classics. Instead (and perhaps quite wisely) it is early 70’s road movie Two-Lane Blacktop with Warren Oates telling young Laurie Bird how he barely feels tethered to the earth. It’s a fine choice as it keys in to the very specific tone and mood Lowery has created with The Old Man & The Gun. Contrasted against A Ghost Story, you can clearly identify Lowery’s concerted effort here to ape the New American Cinema of the 70’s. It’s in the framing and the edit, it’s even there in the font selection for the titles. The movie isn’t just a love letter to Redford, but to an era of movies gone by the wayside, treasured now by cinephiles and collectors.
Redford’s character also mirrors Oates’. Sweet as his scenes with Jewel are, we know he is a restless old fox, and their dance together is likely just that. It adds the requisite amount of melancholy.
Redford had few equals in ‘his day’ (whenever that might’ve started or ended). Perhaps Warren Beatty or Paul Newman could be cited as his equivalents. Still, there is nobody else quite like him. The Old Man & The Gun is as fittingly cool as the man. It is affable, charming, easy on the eye and carries with it a gentleness. Perhaps too gentle. It’s tempting to look back at the thing as barely there at all. But in the moment it is a fine and fitting tribute to a Hollywood legend, not to mention a fine and fitting tribute to America’s boundless love of the rascal outlaw.