How. Dare. You. Yes, I’m talking to anyone out there that didn’t more emphatically beat me about the head or to merely demand that I sacrifice sleep for a late night viewing of The Old man and the Gun at the cinema. David Lowery’s cinematic farewell to one of the greatest living movie stars, Robert Redford, is an utter delight in every conceivable way. Lowery (director of the supremely entertaining Pete’s Dragon and lyrically tragic Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) creates something utterly magical. One luxuriates into the sensory experience of The Old Man and the Gun. From an all-star cast around Redford like Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits and Casey Affleck; to cinematographer Joe Anderson creating a vision for this throwback that would make cinematographer Gordon (The ‘Prince of Darkness’) Willis proud.
Based on the New Yorker article of the same name by David Grann, The Old Man and the Gun follows ageing bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) and his “Over the Hill Gang” have honed a skill to rob a bank with gentle threats and charm in a way that leaves a fond memory in the minds of those he encounters. When he happens to rob a bank with Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) waiting to make a deposit, he triggers an investigation that puts the spotlight on he and his associates (Danny Glover and Tom Waits).
Priscilla Page’s excellent analysis of Logan Lucky for BWDR pointed me to this quote from Steven Soderbergh (to the Guardian) that rang in my ears throughout viewing The Old Man and the Gun:
“I think it’s because heists are so much like making a film. You’re getting a gang together, there are external forces beyond your control. This may work, this may not. You could end up in movie jail. And it’s important to remember that panic has never solved anything in the history of the world. The analogies are very clear.”
Redford’s performance sparks joy (thank you, Marie Kondo). Redford’s career milestones built on some of the greatest heist pictures ever made. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where thanks to an unforgettable script from William Goldman, he and his great partner Newman popularised the anti-hero for American cinema. The Sting, seven academy awards, the second pairing with Paul Newman as master and apprentice grifters taking down Robert Shaw. Sneakers, or Ocean’s Eleven by any other name that remains as sickly sweet.
Movie stars have swagger, confidence and command of the screen. Every single interaction in the film that sees Redford’s Forrest interact with a bank employee for a single serve chat, where for the most part they’re under duress, only contains the warmth they’re feeling. Lowery knows, and surely Redford must acknowledge, the star's towering stature and reputation is wielded for maximum impact.
Casey Affleck is the film's anchor as John Hunt, the despondent family man in a mixed-race couple with the radiant Tika Sumpter as Maureen. John is in the midst of an existential crisis when he encounters Forrest after being in a bank being robbed by the old man. In a stroke of great storytelling, John’s family convinces him that he’s around to chase (but perhaps not catch) Forrest down. There’s a face to face exchange between these two that conjures something new and comfortingly familiar with those Michal Mann HEAT cop/crook face-to-face ingredients.
Sissy Spacek radiates, knowing her relationship with Forrest is too good to be true, and she doesn’t mind. Glover embodies being “too old for this shit," but Lowery has the good sense never to dare let him breathe those words aloud. Waits has swagger and cheek for days. All of these key supports are just damned good in every scene.
Lowery uses every excellent tool in his kit to foreshadow the inevitable. There’s a shot after a job where the sunset is peeking over the hill carving dark silhouettes out of the ‘Over the Hill’ Gang - Forrest (Redford), Teddy (Glover) and Waller (Waits). As blazing beams of sunlight stream over the hill (literally) in the distance, they reveal a graveyard. The perfectly cast Waits as Waller asks something like - don’t you get the superstitious significance of having your stash house across the road from a cemetery.
There’s a shot after Forrest and Jewel (the simply incredible and enduring light that is Sissy Spacek) share a chaste kiss. As Forrest drives away from her house, the red brake lights illuminate Jewel’s face. In that yearning stare, the red lights make her passion tangible.
Lowery bleeds sound from one scene to another to great effect where Jewel has a kettle boiling on the stove and the sound of that classic steaming whistle, the literal heat that has come to boiling point, and we hear that echo whistle all the way into Redford’s driver's seat.
The Old Man and the Gun loves bringing this gang together to send off one of the worlds most celebrated movie stars. The filmmakers use craft and style that reeks confidence that they’ve got the goods. And just like the teller’s relinquished of their bank’s money by Redford’s Forrest, you’re left slightly bewildered and thrilled to have been along for this last ride
Rating: ★★★ & 1/2 /★★★★
Release Date: Available on Digital February 13. Available on DVD February 27
Directed by: David Lowery (Aint Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon, A Ghost Story)
Written by: David Lowery (based on the New Yorker Article by David Grann)
Robert Redford ... Forrest Tucker
Sissy Spacek ... Jewel
Casey Affleck ... John Hunt
Danny Glover ... Teddy
Tom Waits ... Waller
Tika Sumpter ... Maureen Hunt
Ari Elizabeth Johnson ... Abilene
Teagan Johnson ... Tyler
Gene Jones ... Mr. Owens
John David Washington ... LT. Kelley
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.