Theres a twin melancholy, or at least a wistfulness, at work in David Lowerys new film The Old Man & the Gun, which premiered here at the Telluride Film Festival on Friday. On the one hand, you have the plot of the film, based on a New Yorker story by David Grann (CNE, whose parent company Condé Nast also owns The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, is a producer on the film): a kindly, suave old bank robber considers the end of his run while falling into an endearing courtship with an affable widow. Compounding that “sigh, time” ruminative mood is the fact that according to the films star, Robert Redford, this will be his last acting role. Hes hanging up his winning smile, that forever sly and dashing crinkle, once and for all.
But before he does, hes going to use it to full effect one more time. The Redford charm is abundant in The Old Man & the Gun, his familiar mix of cunning and kindness, an arrogance that lets you in on the fun. Redfords character, Forrest, is an elusive man in some ways, but hes also an open book, staging heists head-on with polite, endearing directness. Hes a movie star character, more a collection of attractive and slightly outsized traits than a complicated, boringly believable person. Which makes Forrest a perfect fit for Redfords last dance; its a vehicle tailor made for exactly what Redford has done so right for so many years, connecting with audiences while never quite seeming to touch the ground.
Lowery has been developing a signature style himself. Or, if not a style exactly, certainly a tone, a spirit of decency and thoughtfulness that his last few films have expressed beautifully. There it was in the deeply moving childrens film Petes Dragon, and there again in the equal parts harrowing and comforting mortality art piece A Ghost Story. Lowery just seems like a good guy, a generous guy, one whose filmmaking intentions tend toward communion and understanding rather than the alienation of the cool or the startling.
Though, The Old Man & the Gun is cool in its way. Taking cues from 1970s crime cinema and making more recent reference to Steven Soderberghs Oceans films, Lowery stages heists and police investigations with a witty, laid-back groove, long zoom ins and title cards and smooth music. Theres a grain to the photography (the film was shot on 16mm) that makes it look a little old, but without any retro gimmickry. Its a controlled film, one Lowery crafts carefully but not fussily. His ability to switch genres is impressive; I think we could be watching the emergence of a truly important auteur.
Ugh, sorry, thats such pretentious festival talk, and has no place in a review of this loose, amiable film. What is worth talking about is Redfords lovely chemistry with his co-star, Sissy Spacek, still so light and girlish nearly 50 years into her remarkable career. Spacek has such an ease about her, and though you believe that her character, Jewel, is won over by Forrests gently rakish routine, you can tell that shes hip to the con of it too. Spacek deftly projects that knowing glow, Jewel always in command of how far shes going to follow this shabbily debonair neer-do-well.
As for the opposition, a genially weary Casey Affleck plays John, a police detective whos just turned 40 and is feeling listless. The case of the Over the Hill Gang (as Forrests crew is known) energizes him a bit, something his wife, Maureen (Tika Sumpter, appealing in a small role) notices and encourages him to pursue, even after the F.B.I. takes the multi-state case (Forrests been busy) away from him. Theres nothing terribly dramatic or antagonistic about Johns pursuit of Forrest, some light teasing here or there, a mild staredown. Mostly, the cat-and-mouse of Lowerys film is just reason enough to contemplate the shuffling everydayness of life, of how we are ever aware of its finality while also tending to, seeking out, and appreciating the little joys, mercies, and adventures of it.
That may sound heavy, but rest assured, The Old Man & the Gun is mostly an agreeable, pleasant film. Maybe Im just feeling a bit deep, thinking about what a lovely goodbye this might be for Redford, here in mountains not his own, but close enough. Though, of course, as Forrest demonstrates in the film, nothings over until its really over. Maybe this retirement will be short lived, and well soon see Redford up on the big screen again, that old money-making grin intact, inviting us along on yet another caper.
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