The Old Man and the Gun celebrates the career of Robert Redford and let’s him say goodbye to acting while enjoying every minute of it.
DIRECTED BY DAVID LOWERY/2018
A Ghost Story, which was directed by David Lowery, I said in my review, was a film that is a complex, rewarding, and beautiful story of the significance of a life lived in view of the eternal. His follow-up, The Old Man and the Gun is also a complex, rewarding, and beautiful story, albeit serving as an homage to the life and acting career of Robert Redford in his 50 years-plus of cinema. This is currently being reported as being Robert Redford’s final appearance on screen as an actor. While Redford has given himself some wiggle room to walk back that statement, his portrayal of the real life bank robber Forrest Tucker, and his 18 infamous escapes from prison, including an escape from San Quentin at the age of 70, is the perfect swan song for his career.
Lowery wrote this screenplay based on the New Yorker article by David Grann that profiled Tucker’s story. Starring in the film is David Lowery’s go-to guy, Casey Affleck (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Ghost Story), as Detective John Hunt, the Dallas Police Officer who becomes obsessed with capturing this elusive thief in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The supporting cast is fantastic and includes Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, and Elizabeth Moss.
Forrest Tucker is the titular “Old Man“, and yes, he has a gun, though for him it is more of a prop to get things moving, never a tool of violence. He simply loves robbing banks. We watch as he calmly enters a bank, dressed up in a suit and hat, before handing a clerk a note declaring that this is a robbery, with instructions of what to do. Sometimes, he finds the manager upon entering, posing as someone wanting to open an account, before doing the same in the manager’s office. When he gets his money, he politely says “Thank you” before walking out, listening to his hearing aid prop which is actually a police scanner and a means for detecting when a silent alarm has been triggered, before getting in the car and driving away. Whenever the police eventually come around and question both the employees and the customers who were there during the robbery, they all make careful mention of how polite Tucker was, and how much fun he seemed to be having.
Sometimes Tucker is operating solo, and sometimes he has his old crew, dubbed “The Over-the-Hill Gang”, consisting of Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). They are all old, but they love the thrill of robbing banks. Some of the best parts of the film are when Lowery simply turns on the camera and lets these three just converse with one another. The script creates an almost whimsical moment each time they share the screen and I found myself simply sitting back in the theater and smiling, as I enjoyed seeing this poetic “last ride” of sorts of one of Hollywood’s greatest legends, as he himself seems to be enjoying every minute of it. Tom Waits nearly steals the show with the stories his character Waller tells, and I have to believe (without confirming this as of this writing) that many of these stories weren’t scripted, but simply an example of Lowery capturing lightning on celluloid as the camera just ran, with Lowery letting Waits simply riff these stories. Waits’ story on why he hates Christmas may be one of the best things I’ve heard on film all year.
Sissy Spacek is also having a great time playing the widowed Jewel, a woman who is living life on her own, hanging on to the farm she loves, and the horses she adores. She is instantly charmed by Tucker from the moment they meet as she is having car trouble and he is needing to pull over to pretend to help her as several police cars are on his tail following his most recent heist. He too feels the same as he instantly comes clean with what he does, in a manner of speaking. Lowery knows when to simply slow things down when these two are together, allowing space to sit on a porch and look at the beautiful Texas landscape, sometimes without a word being spoken. Its a mature love that runs deeper than any physical act one might expect. As veterans themselves, Redford and Spacek know how to communicate this type of relationship in a way that speaks volumes, yet looks effortless and natural on film.
Throughout the film, Lowery hides several references to cinematic films that have impacted him, including a big reference to one of his favorite films, Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), starring James Taylor and Warren Oates. That film featured a 1955 Chevy, and here Tucker has a fun chase scene with a 1955 Chevy as he simply feels alive with his windows down and the police chasing after him. This was a great moment, and I encourage you to look for many other tributes to classic cinema throughout The Old Man and the Gun.
We hear throughout the film about Tucker’s legendary 18 escapes, and one of the greatest montages includes a depiction of every single one of them. Rather than using CGI to de-age Redford for these scenes, we are given several clips from his earlier films, and photos, including the film The Chase, that serve as a celebration of Redford’s career.
David Lowery understands perfectly how to use film to convey feeling and emotion, and to capture the time he is depicting. This film feels authentically like an early 1980’s film, and not because of the cars, clothes, hair styles, and the like, but even the very grain of the film is utilized to transport you into the story. Robert Redford at age 80, is still at the top of his game, and could continue to find stories that would be worthy of his talents. If The Old Man and the Gun is to be his final goodbye, then Redford chose a story that will leave you with a smile on your face as you witness a modern film remind you of the vast legacy he has left us in Cinema for the past half century. Like Forrest Tucker, its obvious that he has truly loved to do what he does, and a great way to say “thank you” is to simply go and see it for yourself.