“Old guy with a gun, it’s just kind of a funny story.”
As soon as David Lowery’s latest film begins, complete with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid style font, you know it’s going to be good. The Old Man & The Gun is both a fantastic movie and beautiful swan song to star Robert Red ford’s 50+ year career. But away from the metatextual stuff, it’s also a bittersweet look at life, the choices we make, and old age catching up to us.
Lowery has managed to perfectly capture the style and visuals of the New Hollywood era, right down to the grain on the film. And I guess it’s also down to the costume and makeup folks because the people in this film look to have been ripped straight out of the era. If it wasn’t for actually knowing the real actors and what they look like, the film could easily pass for a product of the late ’70s/early ’80s. The film has the same easy-going tone as many of Redford’s own films of the era, namely the similarly charming classic caper, The Sting. Set in ’81, The Old Man & the Gun follows career criminal Forrest Tucker as he goes about his business; robbing banks, but being an awfully charming guy whilst doing so. Even the people he sticks up say so. His gang of fellow senior citizen career criminals include the oft-underused Danny Glover and the fantastic Tom Waits (whose having a bit of moment, see the awesome The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for more Waits goodness). A standout moment sees Waits tell a story on why he hates Christmas and you feel like you’re at the bar with Redford’s gang. Cleverly, Lowery just leaves the camera on him, letting Waits ramble on in his trademark gravelly tone as the story gets progressively crazier.
The heart of the film comes when Redford meets Sissy Spacek’s Jewel and they share a simple and charming first meeting at a diner. Spaceck is fantastic as the free spirit Jewel, and a perfect foil for Redford’s free-wheeling bank robber. Their relationship is sweet and thankfully the film never makes a soap-opera out of it. In fact, this relationship at the heart of the film is a good metaphor for the film as a whole; it’s sweet-natured and relaxed and just generally heartwarming. Even when the film focuses on Casey Affleck’s John Hunt, the cop chasing Redford’s gang, it’s still charming and likeable. The highlight of the film sees Hunt catch up to Tucker, albeit accidently, as they are both out at the diner with their respective partners. The conversation between the two, as Tucker faces Hunt for the first time, is like a friendly, chilled version of the Pacino/DeNiro conversation from Heat. Tucker even helps Hunt fix his tie. It’s a lovely scene in the middle of a lovely movie. Things do eventually go awry for Tucker, which hits all the harder for all the loveliness that’s preceded it.
As career swansongs go, there are many ways Redford could have played it but I am glad he went with this. Forest Tucker is classic Redford; a charming miscreant with a heart of gold. There are meditations on old age and loneliness but the film keeps the tone light and charming. Lowery’s film is beautiful and the stays with you long after it’s finished. Like Affleck’s John Hunt, the experience leaves you inspired by Tucker, hoping you can live you life as care free as him.