THE OLD MAN & THE GUN
Director: David Lowery
Screenwriter: David Lowery, based on an article by David Grann in The New Yorker.
Runtime: 93 mins.
Australian release date: 15 November 2018
Previewed at: Palace Central, Sydney, on 23 October 2018.
One of the first roles to capture Robert Redford’s ‘charming outlaw’ allure was when he portrayed ‘the Sundance Kid’ in George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid in 1969. Since then he has graced the silver screen as a host of lovably roguish characters, including but by no means limited to, conman Johnny Hooker in The Sting and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. In his final role (Redford claims he has now retired from acting), he plays Forrest Tucker (no, not the guy who played Sgt. O’Rourke in the hilarious TV series F Troop), a career criminal who was gaoled 18 times. Tucker was a bank-robber who escaped from some of the most notorious prisons in the USA, including from San Quentin in a small boat in 1979. The Old Man & The Gun, written and directed by David Lowery, is based on the events of a year in this part of Tucker’s life, when he was on the run, elderly but still plying his illicit trade.
It’s 1981, and Tucker is as determined as ever to make the most of his life, robbing banks, living on the edge, never knowing when one of his heists would go wrong and he’d be back in the slammer. He’d enter banks impeccably dressed as an elderly businessman, sporting a hat, speaking very politely and often showing sympathy to the cashiers, telling one that she was doing a good job - in the middle of the hold-up! When he meets Jewel (the wonderful Sissy Spacek), a woman who’d been recently widowed and had remained on the rural property that she’d shared with her husband, there is a moment when you think he might decide to finally retire from his endeavours. Another job is irresistible, however, and together with his bank-robbing mates Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), he sets off once more. In the lead up to this heist, Tucker’s movements are being tracked by Detective John Hunt (Lowery favourite Casey Affleck), who’s intrigued by this elusive man who carries out his robberies with such panache and is referred to in the press as the leader of the ‘Over-the-Hill Gang’. It was a time when crime and law enforcement were very different to today - there was no internet or mobile phones and computers weren’t in wide use - so the hunt plays out over many months and engenders a kind of camaraderie between the hunter and the hunted.
Going for the look of the movies of the 1970s, the director chose to film on Super-16mm stock and employ a soundtrack that included The Kinks’ Lola and Scott Walker’s 30 Century Man, and other seminal tracks of the period. Lowery’s direction is masterful and thoughtful, creating a consistently gentle tone throughout and his subtle script plays like an homage to the films that Redford made in those years. The actor’s performance is a fitting end to an illustrious career; every emotion is etched in the lines on Redford’s face and his famous smile and the twinkle in his eyes haven’t faded over the years. He is ably supported by Affleck, whose character shows restraint and a weird kind of admiration for the veteran criminal. Affleck, of course, has featured in two of Lowery’s previous films, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story, and it’s a nice piece of casting to have these two fine actors from different generations alongside one another. Spacek is Redford’s match in providing a nuanced performance as a woman going through a ‘late spring’ romance. Tom Waits, too, is excellent in a small but important role as Waller, who relates a very funny story about his step-dad and Christmas. Glover’s part, oddly, is almost non-existent. One assumes he just wanted to work with Redford, even if only briefly.
While maybe not appealing to a younger audience, The Old Man & The Gun is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest Hollywood actors. As David Lowery explains, “I wanted to do three things with this movie. I wanted to push against all of my natural instincts as a filmmaker and see how far outside my comfort zone I could get myself; I wanted to make something that would make people smile; and I wanted to write a love letter to one of the great heroes of the silver screen. Hopefully, telling a good story was a by-product of those three.” And indeed, it is.