When the news first broke that Robert Redford would be retiring from acting after the release of The Old Man & the Gun (which plays this week at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival), it didn’t make a lot of sense. Redford has had an acting resurgence over the last few years and, at least from the outside looking in, it looked like he was having a ball. Heck, he even took a major role in a Captain America movie! But, now, after seeing The Old Man & the Gun it all makes a lot more sense why Redford would want to end on a movie like this. It’s all kind of perfect.
The Old Man & the Gun is directed by David Lowery (who Redford worked with on the still surprisingly great Pete’s Dragon remake) and it has that unmistakable Lowery feel to it: which means it’s somewhat gritty, somewhat sweet and also looks like it was filmed 40 years ago.
Based on a true story. Redford plays Forrest Turner, a man who has loved robbing banks his whole life. At one point, Forrest is asked why he still does it because he’s had to have stashed away enough money to make a living by now. Redford’s Forrest Turner responds, “It’s not about making a living, it’s about living.”
Along the way he meets Jewel (Sissy Spacek, and I honestly could watch about four more hours of Redford and Spacek on screen together, just talking and flirting with each other) and the conversations they have are telling. Forrest often talks about his bucket list and Jewel will mention something along the lines of, “Well, time is running out,” and Forrest just gives a perplexed look. Or, at least, he refuses to accept that that’s the case. In Forrest’s mind, he still has all the time in the world.
Casey Affleck plays John Hunt, a police detective who is tracking Forrest and his two accomplices (played by Danny Glover and Tom Waits). Affleck’s Hunt seems more mesmerized by Forrest’s antics than anything – noting that when Forrest is robbing banks, he always has a smile on his face. He looks “happy.” After a bank has been robbed, the victims all admit that they kind of liked Forrest. Often saying, “He was a gentleman.”
The other day I was in a conversation about how Orson Welles’ last film was a voice role in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie. It’s a fun bit of trivia (and I do like that movie), but it’s also weird that Orson Welles’ last role was in a movie that featured Stan Bush’s “You’ve Got the Touch.” Maybe Redford is thinking that? Maybe Redford doesn’t want the last film of his storied career to be overshadowed by the death of a cartoon robot. (Spoiler alert, I guess.)
The Old Man & the Gun serves as a pretty obvious metaphor for Redford’s acting career. At any point in the film, you can substitute “robbing banks” for “making movies” and it still all makes perfect sense. Here’s Redford, now 82 years old, in a role where he looks like a gosh darn kid. He’s smiling and hamming and charming his way through this whole film and looks like he’s having the time of his life. There are times when you’d swear Redford is in the prime of his life. Why would anyone want to give this up? It’s obvious Redford is asking himself the same question.
But that’s the thing, how many roles are there for people Redford’s age where the character just gets to be happy as we watch him do what he loves doing? Too many actors end their career on something solemn. But, no, that was never how Redford was going to end it. We want to see Redford grinning from ear to ear in The Sting. And here he is, one last time, conjuring up that boyish charm one last time.
If this is really it (and it sounds like this is really it) this is the perfect movie for Redford to end on. I’m sure he’s thinking, “I bet I have three or four more left in me,” but he also knows they probably won’t be anything like this — something he can leave behind that tells the audience that Redford had one hell of a time doing is job, and he was smiling and happy the whole way.
Or, as Redford puts it here, one last time, “It’s not about making a living, it’s about living.”
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