The Old Man & the Gun - 2018
Director(s): David Lowery
Writer(s): David Lowery (screenplay) / David Grann (New Yorker article)
Cinematography by: Joe Anderson
Editor(s): Lisa Zeno Churgin
Cast: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits and Tika Sumpter
Robert Redford announced that this movie was going to be his last performance. A man who has surpassed the label of actor and now is firmly and accurately referred to as an icon. Tying that to the fact that David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Pete’s Dragon) was tapped to direct, coming off his extremely divisive A Ghost Story, I was very intrigued by this movie. It premiered in this year’s Telluride Film Festival, and the critical response was overwhelmingly positive, further cementing my excitement to watch Redford’s farewell movie. Finally got to watch it over the weekend, let’s talk about it.
The story centers around the mostly true story of a career criminal and prison escape artist Forest Tucker (Redford). We meet Tucker in his seventies and still robbing banks with his crew, Glover and Waits, who are later named by Det. Hunt (Casey) as the “Over the Hill Gang.” He meets Jewel (Spacek) and strikes-up a relationship with her and starts to contemplate leaving the life of crime behind, only to be pulled back into his old ways. The aspect I loved the most about Lowery’s script was how he tackled the themes of self-worth and identity via what we do. Tucker can’t escape the thrill, and personal satisfaction that only robbing banks can give him. He is presented as this loner drifting through life - even in his seventies, he hasn’t settled down. We later get to meet the people left behind in his pursuit of bank robberies, further strengthening that his identity is solely tied to his criminal ways. He is proud of his numbered prison escapes, proud to be a wanted man, proud that he outsmarts cops; its who he is, and even when faced with a way out of that life, love, and understanding in the form of Jewel something any can only dream-off, he can’t let go of what he is. A criminal.
Quick note: this is mirrored by Det. Hunt who is facing a midlife crisis and questioning his worth as a cop. The pursuit of Tucker gives him a boost of energy and self-worth to the point that his daughter tells him that he really doesn’t want to catch him since that means he would have to stop chasing him.
David Lowery and cinematographer Joe Anderson shot this movie in a way that feels very much of its time. Not only is the world the characters inhabit genuine to the 80s, the film language, camera choice, film choice, lighting, transitions, editing (Churgin) and score are of the 80s. If you plopped this movie in the box office back in 1985, nobody could tell the difference. This aspect took a second for me to adjust to as at first, it felt like a gimmick, but as it grew on me, I understood it was in service to the story and the characters they were portraying. Lowery has proven himself to be one of the most unpredictable directors working today. All his movies look and feel like they were made by different directors, and even though I haven’t liked all his outings, his talent excites me.
Now let’s talk Redford because he is the reason I bought the ticket. I find it fitting that he chose as his last role someone that can’t get out of his profession. Even though Redford will no longer act, he is heavily involved in the movie industry through the Sundance Film Festival, so like Tucker, he really isn’t stepping away from what identifies him. Redford was the right choice for this role as Tucker is a famed gentleman who has so much charisma and warmth that the bank employees happily handed over the money. Redford’s charm is on full display perfectly embodying someone that you can put your complete trust in, even when you find out he is a career criminal. Sissy Spacek is a great dance partner to Redford, and their chemistry was amazing. The movie could’ve been them having a conversation at dinner, and I would’ve walked away satisfied. I loved how the film tackled relationships at that stage in life and how they are more about companionship and friendship as one already had a love of their life come and go. Casey Affleck was surprisingly charming. He hasn’t been this fun and engaging since probably Ocean’s Eleven. The weak point in my eyes was Tom Waits as he is given a role with some meat and he just didn’t have the teeth to bite down on it.
The Old Man and The Gun on the surface is a fun cops-and-robbers story filled with charismatic and engaging characters, anchored by a complexed theme of self-worth and identity. The care Lowery put into his characters as he penned the script and the touch he demonstrated behind the camera is just another showcase that he is a writer-director to be on the lookout for. Robert Redford has given us many memorable performances and with his signature charisma on full display, and playing Tucker is the perfect sendoff for an iconic career. Redford is why I love movies.
The Old Man & The Gun is currently playing in theaters. Go watch it.
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