David Lowery’s latest film, The Old Man & The Gun, is most likely destined to be remembered in the future for being Robert Redford’s last film. The veteran actor has gone on record as saying that this is likely to be the case.
The film, however, deserves to be viewed as being much more than Redford’s swansong. Lowery has crafted a film that deftly spans a number of genres – on one level it can be seen as an old-fashioned bank heist caper, but it is also a biopic loosely focusing on the true story of the twilight years of an irascible career criminal, Forrest Tucker, a man who was robbing banks well into his eighties. The film could also be classified as being part comedy, part romance, and partly career homage to Redford’s entire body of previous work.
That Lowery manages to keep the film working at all these levels so successfully is testimony to his skill as a director. It is also due to the work of the excellent ensemble cast he has assembled to work with Redford on this project.
Oscar winning actress, Sissy Spacek, is perfectly cast as a lonely widow, Jewel, who accepts Tucker into her life, even though she disapproves of his chosen ‘craft’. Spacek gives an understated performance, but in her scenes with Redford she convincingly conveys a highly believable blend of worldliness and awareness with a rekindled youthful coquettishness as she responds to Tucker’s raffish charms.
Tucker’s accomplices in the ‘Over The Hill Gang’, are wonderfully played by Danny Glover (Teddy) and Tom Waits (Waller), who both provide excellent support to their leader, displaying an equal level of enjoyment as they seek the adrenaline rush of their work, whilst acknowledging and accommodating the problems to which the steady decline into old age has made them prone.
Elisabeth Moss, fresh from her rise to superstardom as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, also has a brief, but memorable, cameo as Tucker’s estranged daughter who helps identify Tucker to the investigating police officer, John Hunt.
Hunt is played by Casey Affleck, and his performance is a standout in this film. His character first appears as being disillusioned with his work, but then, after being inadvertently caught in a robbery that occurs in the bank where he is queuing to be served and being unaware of what has occurred, he finds himself re-energized and subsequently unearths a pattern of similar crimes, leading to the revelation that Tucker and his gang have successfully effected dozens of robberies across at least five states.
As the ensuing chase unfolds we see Hunt closing in on the gang – encouraged by his supportive family who provide some of the most wonderful exchanges in the film as they offer him assistance in this work – but also see him come to begrudgingly admire Tucker, a crook whose modus operandi is the consistent employment of impeccable manners whilst undertaking his work.
Lowery works a number of tropes into the film that bring to mind many films from Redford’s career – most notably the lovable rogues he played in those films that made him a household name, such as Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid and The Sting.
Cleverly positioned by Lowery to see the good qualities of both the protagonist and the antagonist, we cannot help but find ourselves barracking for victory for both sides in this film. We cheer for Tucker, because he is totally relatable in his addiction to the life affirming rush he gets from indulging in his life’s passion (albeit being bank robbery!) and to the stimulation he receives from the intellectual challenge of planning and carrying out successful prison breakouts; and we support Hunt too, because of his staunch adherence to duty and to his adherence to our own firmly held set of family and social values, for which his beliefs are seemingly unshakeable – despite a brief moment of uncertainty when he finally meets Tucker face to face.
The overall look of the film has a classic feel to it. Lowery insisted the film be made solely using 16mm cameras and film, and the grainy visual quality, as well as its avoidance of using too many primary colours in its design palate, adds to the creation of an overarching sense of affectionate nostalgia. The film reminds us all of a time long past, when crooks had a recognisable moral code that was only slightly removed from our own that allowed us to grant them our mild admiration and ultimately, our forgiveness.
Whilst this film has a good heart, however, like so many good crime films and television shows in the modern era, it also raises a number of morally ambiguous questions for us to take away and ponder.
The Old Man & The Gun is a very entertaining film. At one level, it is a clever homage to Redford’s earlier work, but it is also an engaging tale of eternal youth, one that calls to us all to live our lives to the fullest for as long as we can.
If this is to be Redford’s last on-screen performance, then it is certainly an appropriate film on which to finish his much-awarded career.
The Old Man & The Gun will be screened in cinemas nationally from November 15.