A more fitting title for this might have been My Work Is Done Here. Robert Redford has announced that this is his final appearance in front of the camera. For anyone who knows and loves cinema, such a milestone offers an occasion for wistfulness or grateful recognition of his daunting contribution. Perhaps some measure of both.
My existence and Redford's career were synced by fortune such that I've enjoyed a front-row seat to everything he's done on the big screen. If I wasn't already a film addict before seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Candidate (1972), The Sting (1973) and All the President's Men (1976), I was afterward.
Not a bad streak, four classics in seven years. There are stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame who made fewer important films in their entire lives than Redford had by his mid-forties. I can still watch The Natural (1984) or Out of Africa (1985) with undiminished raptness.
Add his achievements behind the camera. Redford won a Best Director Oscar his first time at bat for Ordinary People (1980). Later came highly regarded works such as A River Runs Through It (1992) and Quiz Show (1994) — intelligent, artful ruminations on the human condition.
Has anyone been a better champion of independent cinema? In 1981, Redford bought a ski area in Utah and transformed it into the Sundance Institute. His vision ultimately yielded both the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Channel, the first 24-hour network devoted to indies.
In the old days, boys and girls, almost every movie starred Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Redford helped change that. In 2016, Barack Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, citing among his reasons Redford's dedication to making American movies great again.
The Old Man & the Gun is a well-intentioned love letter to the star from David Lowery, director of A Ghost Story. Loosely based on the exploits of real-life gentleman bank robber Forrest Tucker, it follows three heist-meisters, known as the Over the Hill Gang, as they travel from state to state politely relieving financial institutions of modest sums. Danny Glover and Tom Waits come along for the ride.
While making his getaway one day, Redford's character passes a woman whose pickup has broken down, and he pulls over to help. Sissy Spacek plays Jewel, a widow who soon invites him to her sprawling ranch to meet her horses and have long talks about life on the porch.
Meanwhile, Casey Affleck has an underwritten part as the conflicted lawman on Tucker's trail. The more he learns about the courtly thief — that he never brandishes a gun at tellers, for example (the real Tucker did) — the less he longs to put him behind bars.
I'll be honest. The movie has touching moments, and Lowery clearly means to give Redford a reverential send-off that pays homage to his movie past. The references to westerns and bank robberies bring audiences full circle from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
At the same time, the picture's a smidge too self-satisfied. It coasts on its star's eye twinkling, fedora doffing and widow charming. At times, Lowery even lets it slip into the grumpy-old-gangsters territory typified by pictures like The Crew and Stand Up Guys, which does nobody any favors. Let's leave it at this: Redford's film farewell reminds us of what made his career so memorable, but it definitely won't be among the many movies for which he's long remembered.