Few of us get to decide how we will go when our time comes, and even fewer will make such a choice willingly. A lifetime spent on screen sounds like a boastful statement and perhaps not a bad way to have lived, but the movies tend not to let go of the greats without a fight and it always seems to be them and not the studios that come out looking worse for wear, if they come out at all. If you’ve spotted the connection between a life in Hollywood and the lonely trail blazed by a career criminal then congratulations, you’ve put more thought into this opening than I have. In all seriousness, if The Old Man & the Gun is to be Robert Redford’s final encore then it is a fine stage he has chosen to do it on; even though not everyone will enjoy the show.
He has also come up lucky with the man directing him through his swansong, David Lowery or, as I’ve taken to calling him, the king of the long-90-minutes. Please don’t think that Old Man drags however, Lowery’s films are exactly as long as they need to be and, as was the case with his previous film A Ghost Story, are more than willing to take the time to tell their stories properly. Old Man has less of the languorous long-takes that made up most of A Ghost Story, but it too never feels the need to create noise or bluster when it simply isn’t necessary. If you aren’t here for the gentle charm of it or the beaming, massively charismatic Redford as he brings Forrest Tucker to life then there may not be much here for you. Like an old timer on his porch adamant to spin you a yarn, it’s best not to interrupt or focus too much on the finer points, just soak it all in and whatever you do don’t interrupt.
The narrative that unfolds following Forrest’s growing romance with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), the reuniting with his two partners in crime Teddy (Tom Waits) and Waller (Danny Glover)- who are dubbed the Over-the-Hill Gang by detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck)- in his attempts to track them down is breezy and told in much the same way as that old timer might: the emphasis is on the details. Not the narrative details but the backgrounds, the set dressing, the wonderfully tactile desaturated film stock that make the moments of reflection on Redford’s film career feel perfectly pitched. And the enjoyment comes instead from being in the company of characters that you admire rather than ones you feel deserve to be sent down for life, or rather, the rest of their lives.
“there’s life in the old dog yet, and Lowery’s film is proof of that if nothing else”
Redford is having a great amount of fun as Forrest, his eyes twinkling with every sly line of dialogue or subtle untruth mostly told to Spacek and the pair do have a real chemistry together. Affleck’s detective is almost the audience surrogate as he follows the escapades of the gang with both lawful fervour and a strange sense of glee and devotion like they’re an ageing rock trio he feels bound to follow on the road. Glover too wrings all the enjoyment he can out of his lines and along with Sorry to Bother You, this week reminds us that he is a tremendously likeable screen presence no matter where he is. And then there’s Tom Waits, with a voice that sounds like a weathered old crooner gargling bourbon and hot coals, anytime he appears on screen in something he elicits a joyful reaction in me, he really is the sort of person you’d want to have a drink with, preferably in a bar with no closing time.
The last few years have seen a few great artists take a final bow; Daniel Day-Lewis, if he is to be taken at his word; David Bowie managing to turn his end into a work of art; and now Robert Redford, although he says, ‘never say never’. And why not? There’s life in the old dog yet, and Lowery’s film is proof of that if nothing else. A film you can sit in the midst of like cigar smoke, a lovingly crafted piece on life and the roads it leads you down, and the antithesis of Geri-Action. Good things come to those who wait.