Dallas director David Lowery makes quiet, interesting, twinkling movies, even when he’s telling a bank robbery story like his latest, “The Old Man & the Gun.”
So, it’s nearly perfect that Lowery has Robert Redford, who has made a career of playing rather twinkly outlaws, as the star of “Old Man.” And it’s even more interesting that Redford has said this will be his last acting role, capping a career that has dazzled many an audience, from 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to films like “The Sting” and “The Great Gatsby.”
And even though Redford’s famously handsome face has aged naturally, gracefully and ruggedly, he still has that twinkle in the eye — something that Lowery says makes Redford probably our last old-time movie star.
That quiet twinkle is essential to “The Old Man & the Gun,” which focuses on a 70-year-old bank robber, Forrest Tucker, who escaped from prison 16 times and loved the art of the heist so much that he just couldn’t quit.
Lowery adapted the real-life tale, which co-stars Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck and Danny Glover, from a 2003 New Yorker article by David Grann. It focused primarily on Tucker and his later bank-robbing years in Texas, and how a police detective, John Hunt (Affleck), put together the pieces to dub Tucker and his partners in crime as the “Over-the-Hill Gang.”
In a recent interview at the Toronto international Film Festival, where “The Old Man & the Gun” had its premiere, Lowery said that he not only wrote the role of Tucker for Redford, but that he also wrote the role of Tucker’s paramour, the Texas ranch lady Jewel, specifically for Spacek.
“I was hoping she would say 'yes' to the part,” Lowery says, “and she did, and she exceeded every expectation.”
That doesn’t mean she’s flashy or anything. Lowery doesn’t really do flashy in his movies. Instead, he says, “It was so lovely to watch the two of them (Redford and Spacek) sit together in a car or a diner, quietly, because they had such great chemistry.
“You never know until the actors meet each other whether they will have that chemistry or spark that can illuminate a silent moment with the same force as intense dialogue,” Lowery says. “But they had that. They had that comfort together, and it felt like they had known each other all their lives, but they had met only once before.”
When told that “The Old Man & the Gun” excels in the strange way of being a quiet bank robbery story, Lowery breathes an audible sigh of relief. “I keep making bank robbery movies, but I don’t show the bank robbery very often. We have one in this movie, and it’s a pretty good one. ... But I’m more interested in the drive home afterward. My favorite moment in the movie is Redford driving home from that (big) bank robbery in the rain, and he rolls down the window, and the camera holds on his face for a solid minute. That’s what the movie is about to me.”
Then he adds: “It’s blowing my mind to hear you say that it’s a quiet movie, because it’s one of my noisiest movies. The idea that it’s quiet puts me at ease. I always worry that it’s too hectic, too noisy, that there’s too much going on.”
Lowery says he doesn’t want folks to think that he doesn’t admire big action movies with bank robbery scenes. “I respect the genre,” he says, and he “tried to tell the Tucker story and respect the tropes of the genre ... as well as to satisfy audiences who want to see a good Robert Redford outlaw film. So, that was an experiment and a challenge, and everyone was nervous. But, I think we pulled it off.”
The movie takes place primarily in the 1980s, before the rise of cellphones and the internet. And if you’ve seen such Lowery movies as “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “A Ghost Story” and “Pete’s Dragon,” you probably know that the writer/director avoids the tech age in his films.
“As a storyteller, part of the fun of making movies is to create a world that doesn’t necessarily exist anymore, and to take a step back into the past,” he says. “When you walk onto a set and everyone is wearing a costume, and you see all these old cars on the street, and the décor feels like something out of a different era, it’s a way to go time-traveling, and that is a lot of fun.”
Lowery’s next project will be a live-action, time-traveling adaptation for Disney of the classic J.M. Barrie tale “Peter Pan.”
But he says he has something that might be called "the Spacek itch" after his experience with her on “The Old Man & the Gun.”
“Every day, I am trying to think of what would be the best way to write her a leading role,” he says. “I just want to spend more time with her. And I know the movie will be good, because spending time with her is so great.”
At a party after the movie’s premiere in Toronto, Lowery and Spacek hung out together and did something that brings a smile to Lowery’s face. “She was showing me pictures of her puppy, and I was showing her pictures of my cats, and both of us could just look at cute animal pictures on Instagram all day long.”
Lowery then adds: “I am a crazy cat person.”
He’s also a person who knows how to write good movies for some of our best actors, like Redford and Spacek. We can only hope for more.