The Old Man & the Gun is old-school cool. It’s perhaps the calmest heist film ever made. Robert Redford stars as a career bank robber who performs every act of crime with a smile. This is Redford’s storied final motion picture and he leaves as he came in, the authentic article of genuine charisma and love for performing. He’s surrounded by an exceptional cast, who all reflect great admiration and ability for the craft. Pete Lowery directs with such a signature calmness and affection for form, showing his A Ghost Story (2017) was no fluke but a sign of greatness to come. There is nothing from 2018 as nostalgic and purely of another time as The Old Man & the Gun. By soaking in the past, this is a film that has surely secured its place in the future, a sure modern classic.
There are a few kinds of manipulators in this world. There’s the kind that take from you and create resentments. There’s the kind that take from you and make you feel like it’s your own fault. And then there’s the kind that you thank for manipulating you. Redford’s character falls into the third class. Based on a true story of a robber who lived a happy life of crime, hitting every bank, escaping every prison, and generally making a pastime out of lawlessness. Here, this is all framed with a certain joy, with the kind of resigned confidence of a retirement film. Like Daniel Day Lewis in last year’s Phantom Thread (2017), this is a love letter to an actor showing off everything they have learned.
Shot on film, it feels like anything from the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. If you found it on TV, you may not identify it as a modern film. It does nothing to create that impression. The film grain and laissez faire attitude are of a simpler time where the purpose of a film could be pure escapist enjoyment. The Old Man & the Gun is the kindest film. It is gentle and pure in a way that’s earned and not cynical about being this way. It is one of the last statements from a different generation of actor that have run their course and are leaving their final, most hopeful documents so that we may learn something good from them.
It’s not just Redford that makes the picture. Sissy Spacek exudes immense warmth and incredible on screen chemistry as the love interest of the story. Their relationship plays out so sweetly and in saccharine tones and it’s OK, because they are believable and always lovable on-screen together. The same is true of Redford and Casey Affleck, who plays the tireless detective on the case. Theirs is another kind of affectionate challenging relationship, and when they finally meet, they play up a few great moments of comedy. Redford doesn’t act alone either. He keeps good company, a crew dubbed the Over-the-Hill gang, featuring good ol’ boy buddy parts by Tom Waits and Danny Glover. The trio make for a fun group to watch.
What comes to pass is that everyone stands back and allows Redford to do exactly what he does best. There is a certain swagger and at-ease attitude to the retired, a reassuring sense of having been-there-before. Even Pete Lowery stands back and under directs, every shot feeling like it must have been the first take, one and done, as natural as a reflex. This creates a certain confidence, a je ne sais quoi, which amounts to a really fine and easy watch.
Gifted cinematograph Joe Anderson is having a little more than a field day. No pressure but he revealed to Filmmaker Magazine that he was told, “This is probably the last roll of film that will ever record Robert Redford’s image. So take care of it.” And damn did he take care of it. With the color graded aesthetic of a film transferred to tape, Anderson turns a nice and easy picture into a delicious visual feast of idealist framing, zoom-ins, and a steady perspective. This is a clean and tightly shot little masterpiece of simple technique done beautifully.
Tying a bow on everything is an equally grainy and fuzzy soundtrack, barely raising above the level of a happy hum. It highlights moments, only occasionally demanding attention with three licensed tracks, The Kink’s “Lola”, Scott Walker’s “30 Century Man”, and Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game”. The rest features lovely compositions by regular Pete Lowery collaborator Daniel Hart, who always finds the right tone and mood. Every part is perfectly pitched. And if this usage of “Blues Run the Game” doesn’t move you and perfectly suit the personality of the film, I’ll be damned.
The Old Man & the Gun is a film for the Oscars and for everyone else. This is a calm, shoegazing crime comedy that matches all of its elements perfectly across the line. Robert Redford has shown up and given one of his most naturalistic performances, showing that even in his ‘80s, he still has the exacting and sure confidence that can only come with so much legitimate experience. The Sundance Kid has got the rare opportunity to have the final word on his career, and it’s that if you can leave us with a smile, we will know you’ve done everything there is to do.