Otherwise known by now as ‘Robert Redford’s final movie’, The Old Man and the Gun was already anticipated for the fact it brings the curtain down on a remarkable career stretching back more than half a century. Actors have been known to retire before and stage a comeback, but if this was Redford’s curtain bow, it would be mighty fitting.
Primarily because The Old Man and the Gun allows the all-American actor to exude the casual, intelligent charm he has built a career on; here as Forrest Tucker, a life-long grifter with a speciality of holding up banks across the south of the country alongside fellow crooked old timers Danny Glover and Tom Waits (who is gifted a fantastic monologue to chew on) aka ‘The Over the Hill Gang’. Forrest is old school in every sense of the word; his robberies may sport a gun but they are free of violence, baked in a gentlemanly style from a bygone age, and Forrest remains an enormously likeable figure even while unashamedly taking advantage of the system.
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Lowery’s film and script, set in 1981, provides a wrinkle which allows Forrest to question his life choices in the form of Jewel (played by Sissy Spacek), a widowed woman who he rescues when her truck breaks down and proceeds to court, dancing around his criminal identity while being attracted not just to Jewel’s own homespun charm but the idea of a simpler life – one of lazy afternoons at home, strolls with the dogs, ostensibly the kind of retirement a man of Forrest’s age may indulge. This forms the crux of what turns out to be a light, playful, character drama inside the wrappings of a caper; Redford’s innate charisma and enjoyment of a role which is deceptively layered and complex grounds Lowery’s film in a relaxed, engaging spirit. The Old Man and the Gun wants you to enjoy Forrest’s larceny.
What you feel Lowery is shooting for with his film is the sense of a dying Americana. The early 1980’s setting feels pointed, lying at the cusp of a fundamental change in American tastes and culture almost as powerful as the post-war boom which bred counter-culture; Forrest feels like a man born of a distant age of criminal chivalry, in which the grift is about a way of life rather than a cruel attempt at gaining status and wealth. Redford plays the character with a strange nobility, levelled by his relationship with Jewel which is imbued with a melancholic warmth.
Lowery understands that The Old Man and the Gun is about a man who can never really escape a life he has *enjoyed*, even if it is one spent in and out of prison without any deep seated roots or familial achievements. It’s not a crime story about catching the thief, hence why Casey Affleck’s family-centric detective on the trail feels more a youthful reflection of a life Forrest rejected than any kind of nemesis. There is an honour and respect between two men on opposite sides of the law and of life itself.
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Lowery directs with a sense of mood and place, not to mention a clear knowledge and understanding of cinema, and the sub-genre he is playing in; he captures the feel of a middle America infused with a hazy sun-kissed glaze backed up by a sumptuous, equally hazy, jazz-inflected score by consistent musical collaborator Daniel Hart, which covers you like a blanket while you’re engaged in the skilled performances by a talented cast. You can feel that sense of creative understanding in the commentary track on this release by Lowery, one of numerous extras which provide ample, key backstory and context to his film – including various special feature spots, trailers and a gallery of images.
The Old Man and the Gun feels like a stroll amongst a group of players who are entirely comfortable on camera, within a story which suits a fond farewell to an actor in Robert Redford with deceptive range across a long and varied career. Redford leaves the stage with a tip of the hat and a cheeky spring in his step, almost like the con is on us to think this is any kind of retirement at all. He leaves you wanting more, and what better epitaph is there than that?
The Old Man and the Gun is out on Digital Download, VOD & DVD on April 1st.