Robert Redford’s swansong starts with a caption that tells us this story is “also, mostly true”. The “also” is important — an indication of a tone that is warm, witty and quietly celebratory without being self-indulgent. It’s a callback to almost half a century ago, when the opening text of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid informed us “most of what follows is true”.
That movie made Redford a superstar, and if he felt typecast then he used it rather than resented it — hence the film festival which bears his character’s name. So it is perfectly fitting that this similarly beguiling outlaw story brings the curtain down on one of the greatest screen careers. If he sticks to his announced retirement — and the nature of The Old Man & The Gun could itself be a comment on how likely that is. Redford plays someone who can’t resist his vocation regardless of age or worry or the law. He believes he should carry on doing what he loves. Which is robbing banks. “I’m not talking about making a living,” he says. “I’m just talking about living.”
The story could seem absurd, and perhaps that’s why writer/director David Lowery (A Ghost Story) sprinkles it with specific dates, as if to gently remind us this really happened. The banks are robbed during the early ’80s, but stylistically Lowery’s film is grounded in the decade before. From the unpretentious but elegant shooting style to the percussive, Lalo Schifrin-flavoured score (by regular Lowery collaborator Daniel Hart), this feels a bit like an undiscovered Don Siegel picture. Except it isn’t anywhere near as pessimistic as films it might bring to mind, whether Siegel’s own Charley Varrick or Peter Yates’ The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (a decidedly more acrid take on an old criminal who isn’t able to quit).
Affleck dubs the shady septuagenarians the ‘Over The Hill Gang’ and his dogged, professional pursuit is laced with quiet admiration. This is a film that loves its central character and never really challenges his behaviour, or faces the fear he causes — although it does, in a matter-of-fact manner, present some of the other damage caused by his choices (an Elisabeth Moss cameo stays with you). If Redford had chosen to a make a movie that wrestled with that drama more intensely, he may have had a better shot at the Academy glory that has always eluded him (he has won as director, but only been nominated once as actor, for The Sting). But, as heavily as it leans on his history — there’s a mugshots-and-memories montage comprised of his films — this really isn’t a movie for Redford. It is, as ever, for us.