The Old Man & the Gun Review
David Lowery was caught up with ghosts and the existential anxiety of the legacy we leave behind after death in A Ghost Story, and some of those spectres have been carried across into Robert Redford’s last ever film appearance. Although set in the early 80s, The Old Man & the Gun does all it can to recapture the celluloid warmth of the 70s, a period which remains the actor’s most memorable in a career stretching back almost 60 years.
The metaphors for Redford’s final bow are hidden in plain sight almost everywhere you look. Whether it’s in a character who has spent a life doing what he loves the most now looking back on the path he has taken, the cemetery located across the road from his home seemingly waiting to welcome him, or the homage being made through Joe Anderson’s nostalgic cinematography. Everyone involved knows what it points towards but Lowery thankfully avoids repeatedly bashing us over the head with it.
This is about as inoffensive a film you could watch and perhaps that is the reason why despite its charms there isn’t much to take away from it. Lowery’s story takes its inspiration from the real-life events of criminal Forrest Tucker, a man who appeared to spend his entire existence either robbing a bank, ending up back in prison, or finding a way to break out again. It seems fitting that almost 50 years on from becoming a bona fide movie star in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that we see the train robber waving goodbye in a similar role.
Set in 1981, Forrest’s addiction to chasing the thrill of robbing banks comes to the attention of Det. John Hunt (Casey Affleck). In fact, he’s in one of the banks being targeted as a robbery takes place, but it’s done so quietly that he doesn’t realise until Forrest and fellow seasoned criminals Teddy (Danny Glover) and Walter (Tom Waits) – collectively known as the Over the Hill Gang - have left the scene. When interviewed, bank tellers and branch managers describe Forrest as charming and a gentleman, leaving Hunt confused as to who exactly he is trying to bring to justice.
Forrest’s story first appeared in The New Yorker in David Grann's 2003 article "The Old Man and the Gun" and Lowery tells us from the start his version is likely to take one or two liberties. Forrest’s relationship with Jewel (Sissy Spacek) is likely one of those, their affectionate chemistry allowing them both to reflect on life while teasing the possibility of seeing out their last years together. Although, no matter how enamoured Forrest becomes with Jewel's easy-going personality, you can never be sure if it’s enough for him to leave behind his stick-up career.
After wrapping A Ghost Story, Lowery immediately began working on The Old Man & the Gun, and the residuals of his last project linger in bite-sized cutaways focussing on inanimate objects that contemplate the space around Forrest and Jewel. It’s the first time Redford and Spacek have appeared onscreen together and they make for a sweet enough couple and a romance you believe could be real. Lowery's reflective touch never digs too far beyond the surface and is content enough to keep the tone light and upbeat.
The runtime is a compact 90 minutes, which suits the story being told, but it takes some shine off a strong supporting cast whose talents aren't given much to do. Aside from Glover and Waits featuring as Forrest’s longstanding criminal partners, there are appearances by John David Washington, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Elizabeth Moss and Keith Carradine. It’s a roll call of talent good enough to grace any film, but they are all kept in the shadow of Redford as he quietly brings the curtain down on an illustrious career.
The hints, nods and winks remain there throughout Redford’s final performance but Lowery seems to be content leaving it at that. It stands a small outside chance of sneaking into Oscar contention merely on the fact of what this film means in context of the actor’s career. As a quiet character study it does its job well enough without feeling the need to overreach or manipulate the audience as we wave goodbye to Redford. Like Forrest, how strong the urge will be to return for one last hurrah, remains to be seen.
The Old Man & the Gun opens nationwide in the UK on Friday 7th December 2018.