Robert Redford bids farewell to the silver screen in the “The Old Man & the Gun”
In David Lowery’s homage to an American archetype, Redford ends his career as he start it: playing a celebrity thief in “The Old Man & the Gun“.
In the past decade, David Lowery has made movies about thieves, runaway kids, ghosts, and giant dragons. But really, they’re all about the same thing. Whether Lowery’s films are set in the past, the present, or the distant future, they’re all suffuse with a gentle melancholy about the irreversible slip of time. What we lose and who we love shape whoever it is we will become. But no matter what, we can’t go back.
“Nothing truly is ours. The cyclical nature of history consistently reveals that,” Lowery told me following the release of last summer’s A Ghost Story. “Things keep getting built up and then falling apart, because nothing is permanent.”
That’s why all of Lowery’s films feel elegiac — none more than his newest
The Old Man & the Gun, which stars Robert Redford in what the actor has said will be his last role. Now 82, Redford is not just a Hollywood legend but also a key figure in the history of independent American film as the founder of the Sundance Film Festival.
In The Old Man & the Gun, both Redford and Lowery are returning to their roots. For Redford, a role as a lifelong bank robber feels like a fitting cap to a career effectively launch half a century ago with his role alongside Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
And Lowery’s career was launch when his second feature film, 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, was nominate for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It’s about a pair of thieves in love, seemingly modeled on Bonnie and Clyde; when their life of crime comes to an abrupt end, they’re force to figure out a way to keep living.
So The Old Man & the Gun — which, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is based on real characters — is a natural fit for both star and director, and in Lowery’s hands, it feels like both an homage to the past and a gentle step toward the future.
The Old Man & the Gun is based on the true story of an incorrigible thief and escape artist.
Lowery adapte the screenplay from a 2003 New Yorker article about Forrest Tucker, a career bank robber who simply refuse to stop “working,” even after 18 successful escapes from prison. (David Grann, the New Yorker staff writer who report on Tucker, also wrote the article on which 2016’s The Lost City of Z was based.)
The real Tucker died of lung cancer in prison in 2004, at the age of 83. The Old Man & the Gun picks up late in his career — he’s said to be in his “late 60s” — when he robs a bank with his gang of aging thieves (Danny Glover and Tom Waits), in the most polite way possible. Yes, he threatens the bank teller by quietly showing a gun. But then he compliments her and smiles at her, and he does it in such a gentle manner that she’s stymied and kind of charm, and he gets away with it, as he has for decades.
On his way out of town, being chase by the cops, he stops to help a woman (Sissy Spacek) whose car broke down by the side of the road. (Among other things, the vehicle provides good cover from the cops.) She’s a little skeptical of him, but he seems gentlemanly, and when he offers her a ride, she accepts.
Her name is Jewel; her husband died a few years ago, and now she lives alone on a ranch. In one single scene in a diner, she explains her past to him; he tells her, in so many words, what he does for a living, though he doesn’t reveal his real name. They fall in love in the blink of an eye, and we witness it happen.
Redford and Spacek’s chemistry is easy and lived-in, though the two have somehow never been in a film together.
Their characters connect in a way that makes sense for two people who’ve seen most of life and know the precise nature and contours of its hard knocks, yet retain just enough idealism to fall in love.
Watching them together is the greatest pleasure of The Old Man & the Gun, especially because Lowery chooses to settle the film in the 1970s visually as well as narratively, with the kinds of long, slow takes and zooms and the sort of film grade and coloration you’d see in a film from that much earlier era.
Of course, both Redford and Spacek (who is 68) were much younger back then, so we haven’t had the opportunity to watch either of them act through that particular, literal lens. But it’s easy to imagine they’d have starred in this film if it were made in the 1970s and they’d been stars from a much earlier age.
So the effect of The Old Man & the Gun is pleasantly disorienting: It looks old, but the actors in it are old now, which gives it the feel of having been made in some alternate timeline, or of an homage to both something that could have happen and something that did.
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Directed By: David Lowery
Stars: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek
Written By: David Lowery
In Theaters: Oct 19, 2018 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Jan 15, 2019
Runtime: 93 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The truth is, you can afford to miss Lowery’s portrait of the (con) artist as an old man. Paradoxically, if you see it, you won’t feel your time has been wasted.
Well, The Old Man & the Gun isn’t a bad note for Redford to end on – certainly better than last year’s unfortunately titled Our Souls at Night.
It’s a shame Redford might be retiring, but what a fitting note to go out on.
Linda and Al Lerner
This touching, funny, romantic bank heist trip back to the late 70’s is constructed with precision.