I’m always a little dubious when film stars announce their retirement with a “final feature”. It seems a little like they are attempting to garner extra attention for a film that might not have been given the opportunity otherwise. I’m fully aware of how cynical that sounds however I do actually believe that this could well be the last time we see Robert Redford on the big screen. Whilst that is a somewhat sad prospect, that was not the reason I was so excited to see this film. The reason for my excitement was entirely based around David Lowery!
Certain filmmakers dare to be different. They don’t carve a niche for themselves, they just throw themselves in the deep end, they try different things, they make bold cinema. David Lowery is one such director. He learnt his craft by making a plethora of shorts but really shot to the world’s attention with AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS, a romantic crime drama about an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. It was a divisive film due to it’s slow pacing and quiet stillness considering it’s subject matter but for those it worked for, it really worked! What happened next surprised everyone, when he developed the live action remake of PETE’S DRAGON for Disney. It was one of the year’s most delightful moviegoing surprises, a quality family film that rewarded young people’s imaginations and reminded us of a time when the term “Disney movie” meant something! Then came A GHOST STORY. Now A GHOST STORY is an existential experience for me every time I see it. A heartbreaking joy. An emotional reset button that brings me back to reality. In my eyes it’s a masterpiece and it meant that whatever David Lowery was going to do next was going to be high up on my watchlist. The stage was now set for THE OLD MAN & THE GUN.
Based around the true story of Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford), from his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public. Wrapped up in the pursuit are detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft, and a woman (Sissy Spacek), who loves him in spite of his chosen profession.
The main thing that really makes this meticulously constructed piece of cinema for me is the period setting! Every single frame of the film looks and feels exactly like it was photographed in the 1980s. In a world where it seems every other film is some sort of nostalgia throwback it is getting harder and harder to stand out, but the work from Lowery here, alongside Joe Anderson’s cinematography and Scott Kuzio’s production design, is truly wonderful!
The next thing that is abundantly clear throughout the runtime is just how damn cool everything is. Not since Steven Soderbergh’s OUT OF SIGHT has being a career criminal looked so smooth and whilst that is in large part to Redford’s laid back charisma it is coupled beautifully with Lowery’s confidently lowkey camerawork and leisurely editing. Add some mellow music to the mix and you have a seriously chilled crime caper that is a joy to behold.
There are many performances here that deserve praise, not just Robert Redford’s. Whether it’s Casey Affleck, Tom Waits, Danny Glover, Keith Carradine or Elisabeth Moss, you’re always watching top class, seasoned acting talent give it their all. I feel that a lot of these smaller performances may get overshadowed but they definitely play their part in this film’s success.
The film’s only downfall for me personally was the story itself. Whilst it is an interesting part of the Forest Tucker story, it plays out in very much the way you would expect. For a man who was best known as an escape artist, having escaped from prison “18 times successfully and 12 times unsuccessfully,” according to himself, we get very little of that story here. This is more of an affable character study that showcases great acting talent with a much more traditional narrative. Whilst this is certainly not a bad thing and the final product is far from a failure, I just couldn’t help feeling there was more to this story I wanted to see. As a love letter to Robert Redford’s career it is wonderful. As an example of period cinema done in a way that isn’t just set in a period but actually looks and feels like it, it is exceptional . As a snapshot of a man who lived more in his old age than many of us do in our whole lifetime, it is perfectly fine.
If rumours are correct then David Lowery has now started developing another live action remake of a beloved kid’s tale. This time, PETER PAN! From an old man who refused to settle down to a young boy who refused to grow old! Consider me excited!
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