THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018, David Lowery)
Somehow manages both to take place in the early ’80s and feel like it was made in the early ’80s. The high-grain super-16 photography, sloppily lit and medium-saturated with earth tones, brings you back to 1981 caper movies, but also to the Redford canon: everything from BUTCH CASSIDY and THE STING to SNEAKERS and SPY GAME. And even if he walked it back recently, it makes sense that Redford says this will be his final performance: it’s a summation and a coda, a wink and a smile.
On a scene-to-scene level, this is crisp and entertaining — it clocks in at a lean 93 minutes, skipping not only exposition but sometimes entire heists or major character changes. Lowery knows what we’ve already seen and what will or won’t surprise us, so he brushes past the chorus to gives us a new bridge or two. And the way information is revealed or suggested is playful, clever, and inspiring — much like its protagonist Forrest. Take the opening sequence: as Redford drives away from the bank robbery listening in on the police scanner as they put out an APB on his white sedan, he drives behind a fence being painted by a couple of kids. The kids slap some paint on the wood, then the camera continues moving to catch Redford’s now-blue sedan emerge and continue. Cute goes down a lot easier when it’s also functional.
In taking Redford (his PETE’S DRAGON star) and Affleck (his AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS and A GHOST STORY star) into this cat-and-mouse chase, Lowery is drawing a line from past to present. He’s doing the same with Spacek (who is sensational here), relying on our knowledge of her introduction in BADLANDS as the innocent lover of a criminal. And in pulling this cast into the present, he’s making a movie about time itself and how character is determined both by current action and by a series of actions throughout history. That’s how Redford’s image was developed, and it’s how Forrest lives his life — he doesn’t rob banks to secure a future, he does it because it’s in his nature. (As one line puts it: it isn’t about making a living, it’s about living).
And because of this existential definition, the movie turns to celebrating the chase rather than its result. One slightly clumsy line is forced on Affleck’s daughter — she says that once her dad catches the bad guy, it’ll be too bad because he won’t get to chase him anymore. Perhaps too on-the-nose, but the spirit is there. Time marches on, we get older, we make new friends, new lovers, children who know us and those who do not. And as the generations pass, some things remain constant: the things that thrill us, and the things that make us feel alive. Wait, am I describing A GHOST STORY or THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN? Pretty cool trick, David.