It’s festival season! The FilmSoc blog is covering the 62nd BFI London Film Festival (10th – 21st October), diving into the myriad of films and events on offer to deliver reviews.
Raphael Duhamel reviews Robert Redford’s charming swansong.
Forrest Tucker was a happy man. He robbed banks without hurting anyone, was sent to prison – only to escape – and went back to doing what he did best. Most people he met, may they be civilians or police officers, were struck by his smile and constant civility. David Lowery chose this unusual premise as the story for his fourth feature film, casting Robert Redford in the main role. Set in 1981 across the United States, The Old Man & the Gun is an entertaining and heart-warming picture, serving as an appropriate testimonial to one of Hollywood’s most legendary actors, in what is supposed to be his last outing.
The character of Tucker combines the attributes of the eponymous real-life thief and Redford’s own renowned anti-hero roles. Paying homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from the very beginning, the feature makes multiple references to 60s and 70s cinema from this moment on while recreating the era’s style through the use of rough 16mm cinematography. Lowery’s film expertly reimagines the atmosphere of emblematic New Hollywood crime pictures, even incorporating some footage from The Chase in an aptly nostalgic montage compiling the protagonist’s – or is it Redford’s? – greatest escapes.
Facing Tucker is morose cop John Hunt, played by a moustached Casey Affleck, chasing a felon who enjoys stealing more than he takes pleasure in catching criminals. The case of the old man with a gun provides Hunt with a new goal to pursue and an exit from his existential crisis. The narrative replicates Michael Mann’s Heat in its depiction of two opposing figures on either side of the law, but transforms it into a respectful cat-and-mouse game, far from Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s fiery relationship. The central scene in which Redford and Affleck meet is supremely amusing and courteous, in the image of their empathetic rapport, which constitutes one of the main reasons why The Old Man & the Gun is so enjoyable.
Sissy Spacek also shines as Jewel, a sympathetic widow who takes a liking to Tucker and lets herself be fooled by his mystifying manipulations. Spacek and Redford form a charming couple, and their fantastic onscreen chemistry spawns unforgettable lengthy scenes of dialogue, favoured by Lisa Zeno Churgin’s unobtrusive and smooth editing. The protagonist’s honesty, in his first encounter with Jewel, is so forthright and unexpected that it remains unclear whether she is aware of his ploys, but she certainly gives him the benefit of the doubt, beguiled by his irresistible smile and charisma. Much like the audience, she is too captivated by this mysterious personage to worry about the integrity of his occupation.
The Old Man & the Gun is, in every way, a profoundly American film. Its main and supporting cast are entirely made up of Hollywood icons, chosen as much for their acting talent than for their résumé. Spacek, Danny Glover, and Tom Waits’ characters are only referred to on a first name basis, and even Tucker’s real name is only revealed in the film’s second act, as if they were interacting with each other as their real, public self. Lowery directs his narrative with noteworthy lyricism and ingenuity, recalling at times the virtuosity of Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera movement in his equally great U.S tales, such as Boogie Nights and Inherent Vice. Tucker lives the American dream, roaming freely across the fifty states with suitcases full of money, but his non-violence and overall geniality appear to clear his name of any accusations, at least in the director’s eyes. In a Willy Loman-esque speech, the protagonist affirms that “looking sharp will take you a long way”, a statement which is undeniably legitimised by the film. The moral ambiguity of Redford’s role is far from being the story’s focus, and even Affleck’s despondent sergeant seems to find his man more likeable than hostile. At its core, The Old Man & the Gun is an endearing ode to American opportunism, symbolically closing a chapter of cinematic history with flair and panache.
The Old Man & the Gun will be generally released in the UK on December 7th. Check out its trailer below: