As far as the 82-year old Redford is concerned, there could be few more appropriate stories for an actor who may or may not be hanging it up. Forrest doesn’t seem like much of a reach for Redford, a handsome and charismatic man unafraid of showing his age, not that it keeps him from getting what he wants. Forrest keeps a mental list of his greatest hits, as most people do when they think of actors and their careers, and he’s worried about being able to handle the presumed drudgery and loss of purpose engendered by a life without his vocation. Redford undoubtedly caught himself thinking about his own life as Forrest is giving a conflicted look towards Jewel and wondering about paths taken or not, and he might channel Forrest the next time he’s around a film set just as the robber might eye a bank. This meta aspect of The Old Man and the Gun is weighty throughout the film, provoking several knowing smiles in the viewer as it becomes unclear if it’s the actor or the character speaking in any given moment.
Even if Redford wasn’t retiring and Lions for Lambs 2 was on a future release schedule, Lowery’s film would be more valuable than a trivia footnote. Redford is excellent enough, and Lowery’s growing clout means that he can stock his films with great actors in small roles, including Elisabeth Moss as Forrest’s estranged daughter or Danny Glover and Tom Waits as former accomplices. Casey Affleck, having now worked with Lowery on three of his films, gets a larger role as a detective chasing Forrest, and serves as something of a mirrored image in that he’s working a job he feels no passion for but it’s in service of a family that Forrest doesn’t have. Jewel provides the possibility of that family, and Spacek’s warmth and decency make the decision an easy one for anyone but Forrest. She is wonderful throughout, anchoring a couple of magical scenes that show how formidable she continues to be.
Lowery hasn’t fully redeemed himself with The Old Man and the Gun. Moss’ character provides a counterweight to the film’s lightness as she’s someone who is resistant to Forrest’s considerable charms and only sees him as a useless blank spot in her life, but there is a layer of whimsy and eccentricity around the film that otherwise overwhelms her single outlier. If the film is an addiction parable, it takes far too much pleasure in falling off the wagon. However, the same director that makes a bank robbery into a genteel and intimate affair is the same one crafting a beautiful interplay between Forrest and Jewel, and the latter provides more joy than the former does annoyance. This is Lowery’s best film thus far. If it takes another venerable actor’s retirement for him to top it, so be it. B