Cosy, unassuming caper with pure heart.
There’s a scene in David Lowery’s previous film, A Ghost Story, in which two white-sheeted ghosts stare at each other from their respective homes, communicating without words in their deafening blankness. “Who are you waiting for?” one asks. “I can’t remember” they reply. This almost poetic agony is a testament to Lowery’s humble ability to tell an affecting story. While that work was an allegory on the grief that follows the passing of one’s life, The Old Man & The Gun, based on a mesmerising New Yorker article by David Grann, is a tribute to fulfilment of one’s life, a gentle, wistful oversight of a gentleman’s love for crime, an tender affair that is one of the most pleasant, ear-to-ear grin-inducing treats of the year.
This (mostly) true story revolves around Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), a 70-year-old with an affinity for robbing banks. His long-spanning, expert career as a criminal has enchanted those he steals from with his unexpected kindness, and when detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is assigned to the case, he too is swooped up by his talent and principles.
Lowery’s endearing spin on the heist genre is a discreet thrill-ride, the joy arising from each counterpart of the movie-making machine working in handsome unison. Daniel Hart returns as his right-hand composer and injects a bluesy peppiness to convey the twilight heart and adventure a story as unbelievable as this deserves. He captures the film’s fleeting ethos, whether it’s in an exquisite diner tête-à-tête or an off-road cash-flying car chase.
This is reportedly Redford’s final swansong; quite the fitting sendoff, a performance in which his charisma hangs slow and steady, in which his carefully refined magnetism is as effective as his earlier days in the star-making Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men. This is a turn which feels like the performer playing himself (or at least, the person we think we know). Bank robbers are, generally, likeable rogues, whether it be for their devilish villainy or ulterior motives we as the audience can root for. But Tucker had no mean-streak, no crushing debt or ransom to pay; he just loved the buzz of the chase. It’s a rare plotless drive that bears down on Redford to fill in the gaps, and he does just that, like a seasoned pro without a worry in the world.
Following an opening robbery and a practised switcheroo to throw cops off his trail, he spots a lady outside of a broken down car at the side of the motorway. He pulls over and asks her if she needs any help, craftily hiding behind the bonnet as police cars fly by. This turns out to be more than a passing convenience though, as he and Jewel (Sissy Spacek) spark up a lovely companionship. In their scenes together, the natural, uncompromising chemistry fuels dialogue (also written by Lowery) which you lap up no matter how inconsequential.
The dazzling ensemble is a who’s who of talent; alongside Redford and Spacek is Danny Glover and Tom Waits as fellow addicted thieves (the latter of which has a scene-stealing Christmas story) who too have a similar hangdog confidence. John David Washington shows up in another police role following this year’s much different BlacKkKlansman. Affleck plays it down here, resigned in quietly determined but often lax attitude. He finds relation and admiration in Tucker, almost more of a personal game with a friend than a vengeful pursuit of crime. Think of it as Heat, but more like a cosy fireplace than a brooding inferno.
The decision to use 16mm film stock only tucks you in tighter into this warm blanket of a picture, comfortably pastiching classic movies of old (look out for the occasional splicing of cowboy flicks) as a respectful tribute without disregarding their worth. Grainy, loose, pretty cinematography from Joe Anderson is illuminating, through cutesy close-ups, sublime framing and stunning pink-tinged sunrises. But the film’s greatest success is in its irresistible charm, swaying you through a lightweight saga that champions human spirit. One character says he asked Tucker, “Surely there’s an easier way to make a living?” Tucker responded: “I’m not talking about making a living, I’m just talking about living.”
An unreserved, mellow triumph that soothes the soul.
Cameron Frew – @FrewFilm