Director: David Lowery
Screenplay: David Lowery
Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek
Runtime: 93 Minutes
If there’s anything truly consistent with the inconsistent filmography of writer/director David Lowery it’s the prospect of witnessing modesty unfold onscreen. That’s not to say anything of the quality of his work overall – he’s an incredibly talented individual who often makes beautiful, softly absorbing works of sensual emotionality – but an observation of a creator that, despite his electing choices when it comes to productions of differing genres and scopes, wants to audience to move at the same leisurely, measured pace as his storytelling.
The Old Man & the Gun is the first feature of his to work from a true story, although proudly takes its liberties in the manner in which it tells it. Based on the true-life story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a career criminal and prison escape artist who spent much of his life robbing banks and escaping from prison "18 times successfully and 12 times unsuccessfully" – to which we are witness to in a final montage sequence that carries the same levity with it that the film has already comfortably carved for itself.
For something focused on bank robberies, there isn’t actually a single shot that appears to be fired by Tucker at any point despite holding onto a handgun in every stickup – those gunshots that are come from backdrops and old westerns playing on television sets. Instead, choosing to talk his way through a robbery with calming ease and a persistent smile, leaving everyone in his wake befuddled by his sense of cheer and comfort in such an organised manner as he steals their money.
It’s a testament to Redford as a performer that he slips so perfectly into the role of a smooth-talking elderly gentleman, given his credentials and his graceful facility to, well, play himself more or less. Redford is magnificent in what is supposedly his final performance before a well-earned retirement, and he owns the moment as the entire feature feels constructed around holding him and his past work up for respect. Going so far as to insert images and footage of him from throughout the years into the images and flashbacks as some grand summarising retrospective of the earnest feel of Redford as a performer.
But if there’s something that Lowery loves photographing more than the beautifully aged face of Redford, it’s the face of Casey Affleck, throwing off the sheet he was buried under for their previous collaboration in A Ghost Story.
Affleck is one of the most naturalistic performers currently working, and seeing him cast as the foil to Redford’s Tucker in Detective John Hunt, a man so shaggy dog that he can’t even use a tape recorder properly, brings a wonderful cat and mouse dynamic that never feels strained or wanting of purpose. Simply complimenting each other as components of generic foundational building blocks and allowing them to simmer slowly together. He also shares terrific chemistry with Tika Sumpter as supportive wife Maureen and the two very talented youngsters playing their children.
Joining them are the likes of Danny Glover and Tom Waits as Tucker’s accomplices in “The Over the Hill Gang”, both of whom are well suited and aged perfectly into their positions even if Glover is lowered next to Waits who delivers many of the film’s funniest lines.
There’s also Sissy Spacek as love interest Jewel, and even being absent from the screen for a few years Spacek still able to dazzle us with the chemistry she shares with Redford, offering up a genial senior alternative to many other relationships like theirs recently seen in the genre.
The film feels as saturated in its Americana as it does the era it’s set in, just entering the 1980s but shot with the rough compositional elegance of an authentic 1970s feature. It’s almost distracting at first just how authentically Lowery replicated films of the era, from the aesthetic, set décor and colour pallet to the almost intentionally scratched celluloid.
It feels and moves in a way so potently old-fashioned that it takes a while to notice that the film isn’t really saying much of anything about the present in retrospect, which is sometimes the example of why exercises like this can work so well. It doesn’t even cast all that much judgement on the actions of Tucker, although a scene with a thankless Elizabeth Moss as abandoned daughter Dorothy evidently displays the pain that he has left behind despite his friendly demeanour.
Taken on every grain of its own merit, The Old Man & the Gun is every part as charming, unhurried and handsome looking as it’s leading man. Even if it has nothing more to say than exemplifying and cementing Redford’s legacy, it’s a brisk, beautifully made and highly enjoyable little gem that wears its influences well while never for one minute looking like it’s showing off.