by: William Burleigh ’19 A&E Staff
The film industry experienced a melancholy and nostalgic moment last week, as what is possibly Robert Redford’s final acting performance, in The Old Man & the Gun, reached screens on Sept. 28. Redford, who has been discussing the idea of retiring his acting career since 2016, announced his intent to retire in August, although doubt has since been cast on this statement.
Based on a true story, the dramatic comedy The Old Man & the Gun tells the story of Forrest Tucker, a gentlemanly bank robber who escapes from San Quentin prison at the age of 70. The ever-polite Forrest then goes on to pull off a string of heists that confound authorities and enchant the public.
The film was written and directed by David Lowery, who is known for his well-received Disney remake Pete’s Dragon (2016)—which also starred Redford—and intriguing indie hit A Ghost Story (2017).
Sissy Spacek co-stars, playing a woman who falls for Forrest despite his criminal history. Casey Affleck also appears as a pursuing detective who becomes captivated with Forrest’s commitment to his craft.
The Old Man & the Gun has gained positive reviews since initially premiering at the Telluride Film Festival on Aug. 31. Rolling Stone described the film as an “unassuming, exuberant gift,” praising Redford’s “virtuoso performance,” the “glorious” Spacek, and their rapport as “the essence of screen chemistry.” Indiewire applauded The Old Man & the Gun’s ability to act as a piece of self-reflexive nostalgia without sacrificing originality, calling it“the best kind of tribute, one that understands the material so well that it inhabits its very essence.”
With discussion of the film’s sentimental bearings and the on-going dialogue surrounding Redford’s potential retirement there has been a lot of reflection on the legacy of his lengthy and famed career.
One of Hollywood’s most famed movie stars, Redford reached major popularity in 1969 when he starred alongside Paul Newman (who died 10 years ago on Sept. 26) in the Western adventure Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, an early indication of Redford’s penchant for portraying outlaws. The two celebrities and lifelong friends would continue their cinematic partnership in 1973, with blockbuster crime caper and Best Picture winner The Sting, one of Redford’s greatest hits. Redford tackled an iconic F. Scott Fitzgerald character with The Great Gatsby in 1974, and his role opposite Dustin Hoffman in the ever-relevant and important political thriller All the President’s Men (1976) was considered a landmark performance. His directorial debut, drama Ordinary People (1980), became one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the decade and won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for Redford.
More recently, Redford gave what many believe to be the finest performance of his career in All Is Lost (2013), playing a near-totally silent sailor stranded at sea and the only character to appear on-screen. Redford even waded into the superhero genre when he appeared in Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Overall, this filmography leaves little doubt that Redford is one of the most prolific leading men in Hollywood history.
Beyond acting and directing, Redford is the founder of the Sundance Film Festival and was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by Barack Obama.
Amidst all the discussions of The Old Man & the Gun being Redford’s swan song came a curious development. At the premiere of the film on Sept. 20, when asked if he is truly retiring, Redford told Variety, “I think that was a mistake. I should never have said that.” Redford’s statement is somewhat ambiguous as it raises the question of whether he meant that his ‘mistake’ was choosing to retire, or choosing to make a public announcement about the matter.
He went on to say, “If I’m going to retire, I should just slip quietly away from acting. But I shouldn’t be talking about it because I think it draws too much attention in the wrong way. I want to be focused on this film and the cast.” When asked to clarify if this is not his final film, Redford responded, “I’m not answering that.”
In a later interview with the New York Times, Redford seemed to support the idea that his walk-back was more a statement of regret in regards to his handling of the announcement. He desired to deflect attention away from his career saying, “By talking about that, it drew too much attention to me rather than what I was here for, which was to promote and support the film that David Lowery’s made.”
Whether or not this is really his final acting role, The Old Man & the Gun serves as another fine performance for Redford, the leading man who has graced screens for over half a century and has nothing left to prove.
The Old Man & the Gun is currently playing in select theaters and will expand its release nationwide on Oct. 12.