David Lowry has already made two great films — A Ghost Story and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — in his short career. Add another one to that list: The Old Man and the Gun. There are directors who are more about storytelling, for example, Martin Scorsese. To them what matters most in a film is whether they are telling a story with an arc and well-defined characters. Then there are directors for whom the aura, the setting more important than the story itself, for example, Terrence Malick. These directors want you not just to watch the film, but also feel it. David Lowry certainly belongs to the latter kind. His films have a special quality – they feel earthly and real. ‘The Old Man and the Gun’ has almost an unbelievable story at its center — even though it is based on true events. But in Lowry’s hands, the film feels so real that you start believing that you might know the characters very well. And if you don’t know them, you would certainly like to know them. It is almost as if Lowry has plucked a slice of life from a time and place in history and offered it to you. The film, based in Texas of the 80s, more than anything is a nostalgic tribute to the times gone by when the life was still simple.
Based on the true story, the film follows career criminal and prison-escape artist Forrest Tucker, who loves to rob banks — not that he needs money but because he has so much fun doing it. Forrest (Robert Redford) has spent much of his life in jail and much of his energy breaking out – he successfully escaped incarceration 18 times. Forrest is now in his seventies, free, and living in a retirement community, yet he cannot resist the lure of another bank heist. He assembles a gang who, though armed, rely mainly on creativity and charisma to claim their loot. They are pursued by Detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who loves to chase more than to arrest. While Forrest is busy committing one heist after another, he is also slowly falling for Jewel (Sissy Spacek). Jewel doesn’t know about Forrest’s past, even though she suspects something fishy. Will Hunt be able to hunt Forrest? Will Jewel come to know about Forrest’s real identity? And will Forrest give up on his robbing habits? You will have to watch the film to know the answers to these questions.
There couldn’t have a better last film for Robert Redford. He lends Forrest such an affable quality that it is impossible to not love the guy — despite the crimes he commits. Charming villains come in various forms, but Redford’s Forrest is the most charming of them all. As good as Redford is, he delivers only the second-best performance in the film. The best comes from Sissy Spacek. As Jewel, she exudes warmth and care. The spark in her eyes is unmissable. Her chemistry with Redford is so tangible that you don’t want the conversations between Forrest and Jewel to end. They flirt, they sigh, they look at each other longingly. There is almost a separate film about their love story right there.
‘The Old Man and the Gun’ is a film that Hollywood stopped making long back. Heist movies are now more about the violence, the blood, the thrill etc. That’s why Lowry’s film is such a stand out; he relies on the charm of his subject to tell a story that is infused with a sprinkling of humor, romance and nostalgia. To me, ‘The Old Man and the Gun’ is the feel-good film of the year.