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The Big Screen: ‘The Old Man And The Gun’


by Stephen Becker 11 Oct 2018

Robert Redford has said that his new movie, “The Old Man and the Gun,” will be his last.

Listen to an extended interview with filmmaker David Lowery in the player above or via the NPR One app.

And if that’s true, it means a Dallas director will guide his final performance (which is getting great reviews, BTW). This week on ‘The Big Screen,’ KERA’s Stephen Becker talks with the film’s director, David Lowery, about the experience.

“The Old Man & the Gun” is based on the real-life story of Texas bank robber Forest Tucker. Tucker was a career criminal. He was first imprisoned at age 15 and continued to spend the rest of his life in and out of jail. His story – including a few tales about his 30 attempts to escape prison (18 of which he says were successful) – was chronicled by David Grann for “The New Yorker” in 2003.

Lowery tells ‘The Big Screen’ that he believes Tucker, again portrayed by Redford, wasn’t a bank robber because he thought it’d make him rich.

“I don’t think he’s doing it for the money at all,” Lowery says. “The real Forrest Tucker wanted to go down in history as a classic, legendary outlaw. That’s who he wanted to be – he wanted to be the movie version of a bank robber, rather than an actual bank robber.”

"I played Jeremiah Johnson like this!": Robert Redford stars as Forrest Tucker in The Old Man & the Gun. Photo: Eric Zachanowich/Fox Searchlight Pictures

“I played Jeremiah Johnson like this!”: Robert Redford stars as Forrest Tucker in The Old Man & the Gun.
Photo: Eric Zachanowich/Fox Searchlight Pictures

And if that’s true, then Redford may have been the perfect man for the job. Redford’s one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. And though he’s played tough guys like The Sundance Kid and stodgy like Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men,” he’s known for his charm. And NPR film critic Glen Weldon says he’s perfect for the role: “Redford’s artisanal fuel mixture of charisma and (apparent) effortlessness [make] him a legend.”

This is the second film that Lowery has made with Redford. He says the Oscar-winning director is always a willing participant but was able to pass along some wisdom.

“He took direction really well. Although, sometimes I would ask him to do something. And he would say, ‘I’ll do it again, but I was doing it on the first take and you just weren’t paying attention.’ And he was always right “

Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun Photo: FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun
Photo: FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Redford isn’t the only film legend on screen in “The Old Man & the Gun.” The 68-year-old, Academy Award-winning Sissy Spacek co-stars in the film. The actors’ characters meet as Tucker’s running away from a crime scene. Their relationship is fun. It’s flirty. And for cinema, it’s unconventional because of how it portrays falling for someone in your 60s.

“I really wanted them to feel like 16-year-olds flirting and falling in love in the way you might in high school,” says Lowery. “I didn’t want this to feel like a “late-in-life” romance. I wanted the romance to bring all of the teenage passion back to these elder statesmen and women of cinema.”

Lowery says he really tried to direct them like they were young. He told Redford to consider that Tucker had been in and out of prison since his teens. He wanted to Tucker to be emotionally and maturely stunted. And Lowery wanted Tucker’s eternal youth to bring something wistful out of  Spacek’s character.

Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun Photo: FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Sissy Spacek and Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun
Photo: FOX SEARCHLIGHT

“She’s someone who’s grown and matured and who has had a lot of life experience, but something about Bob [Redford] brings out that 16-year-old girl in her,” says Lowery.

The film is primarily set in Texas – Dallas during the 80s – but it was mostly filmed in Ohio. Despite the off-site filming, “The Old Man & the Gun” captures the time and place in which it’s set. Lowery says doing that takes a lot of thought because he doesn’t want be hitting people over the head with Texas Flags or shots of Reunion Tower.

“I really try to find a texture. And that’s what I lean into,” says Lowery. “With all of my films prior to this one, I’ve never specified when they take place. They’re always in some hazy period, which has long since passed. But we don’t know when exactly that is.”

Lowry says he wanted to be subtle about establishing the setting for this film despite having very specific time and place stamps in the film, so he’d sneak in a Dallas police car or an out of focused skyline because he thinks that’s a more graceful way to set the scene.

“The Old Man & the Gun” is showing in theaters across North Texas.

 

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