The Old Man & the Gun is a joyful celebration
The Old Man & the Gun is one of my favorite moviegoing experiences of the year. The day I saw it on, the bike ride to and from the theater, listening to the score later that night – it is all going to stay with me. It reminds me of mild, cool weather and clothes that fit well. It reminds me of seeing a friend you have not seen in a long time. I enjoyed the experience of watching it and the feelings it made me feel so much.
Robert Redford has already sort of walked back his statement that The Old Man & the Gun is his last acting turn. If it is and he never acts again, this is a perfect career bookend. It couldn’t be any better. If it isn’t and he decides he wants to act more, I cannot wait to see what he does next. He has always been great but he is note perfect as Forrest Tucker, the charming old man that robs banks with such a polite demeanor that you want him to get away with it. There is a twinkle in his eye and a weathered, wise confidence in his performance. It’s my second favorite performance of the year behind Ethan Hawke in First Reformed, and unlike that haunting performance, this one just makes me smile.
David Lowery has a very impressive and varied filmography, and this is his best film yet. I had a similarly strong reaction to A Ghost Story–a haunting, beautiful film about the passage of time and loss. That movie is marred by an overlong and annoying monologue in it’s middle, but it’s ambition and style is something very special.
His Pete’s Dragon remake is as underrated as a Disney movie can be. It didn’t make a lot of waves or money, but it is a very good movie that showcases all his emotional skills. His talents are undeniable in The Old Man & the Gun. The tone is light but does not spare emotion or lean into comedy. The look and feel of the movie helps it feel like it was made in the years it takes place in. It feels old and wise like Forrest Tucker himself. It just instantly feels very sure of itself, like a classic. This is a movie I cannot wait to show my parents. It reminds me of No Country For Old Men, without all the doubt and dread. The Sherriff Ed Tom parts, but happier.
The score by Daniel Hart is one of the film’s best assets, and one of the best scores of the year. He has worked with Lowery previously and their collaborations are excellent. It’s full of jazzy drums and soft horns, pianos lines that are supposed to sound like ticking clocks and tension. It is really beautiful, relaxing music and I am having a hard time comparing it to other scores because it sounds like an instrumental jazz album.
The supporting cast is great. Sissy Spacek is having an outstanding year with this and her excellent performance in Castle Rock. Her and Redford’s scenes are delightful. Tom Waits and Danny Glover are great as the other members of the ‘Over-the-hill Gang’. Tom Waits’ character has a great monologue about his checkered past that got laughs from everyone. Tika Sumpter is excellent. Casey Affleck is fine – he mumbles a lot early on, and though his character is definitely supposed to be tired and desperate to catch his guy, the actor also seems a little … miserable. But he’s fine. He was good in his brief on screen appearances in A Ghost Story too. His weary lawman is a few shades off from Mark Ruffalo’s excellence in Zodiac, but he’s fine. I am not a big fan, but with this performance I can see his appeal and why you cast him. David Lowery understands how to use him, and some of his scenes near the end are undeniably affecting. And Elizabeth Moss shows up for one scene. Weird casting.
There is a slow inevitability in this movie. The score frequently sounds like the ticking clock we hear, with lush jazz mixed in. The quiet moments in the diner, at Sissy Spacek’s characters farm, and in cars all feel like Forrest Tucker is attuned to everything. Taking it all in. He’s like an older, less annoying Jack Sparrow. He’s larger than life. We do not know why he robs banks, but when we learn more about his past we know that he has always been this kind of guy. It’s his drive. He does what he has to do, or as one character puts it – “when you find something you love.”
Everything is tiny in the grand perspective. The passage of time just makes dust of all of us and I guess this is a movie about a guy trying to make the most with his time. But it is definitely about a guy who has been running his whole life, and loves running, and never wants to stop. He doesn’t want to settle down and enjoy his remaining years. He wants to rob banks and run away like a mythical bandit. It’s frustrating, and sad. But when you see Redford’s face, you get it.
Mild spoilers in the following paragraph
In the film’s final minutes, Lowery and Redford pull a magic trick. In a beautiful montage we see all the times Forrest has escaped from prison, complete with footage of a young Robert Redford from movies early in his career when he looked like the very definition of an American movie star. It ran me right over. It felt like a love letter to story telling, movies, and Robert Redford’s magnificent career. It is the kind of the thing I hope to get out of a movie – it made me feel so many emotions, and it will stick with me for a long time. This guy has been running his whole life, and he’s good at it. It’s a joy to see him run.
The Old Man & The Gun is one of the best films of the year and is playing in Philadelphia right now.