David Low­ery’s ‘Gun’ too good to be true

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - ZEST - By An­drew Dansby STAFF WRITER

David Low­ery’s new film, “The Old Man & the Gun,” tells the story of an ag­ing bank rob­ber and a young de­tec­tive try­ing to catch him.

Robert Red­ford plays the crook, named For­rest. Casey Af­fleck is the law­man, named Hunt, whose quarry proves per­sis­tently elu­sive. The char­ac­ters’ names are al­most too per­fect for the story, yet they were gifted to the film­maker from the true story of a com­mit­ted re­cidi­vist.

“It was too good to be true, right?” Low­ery says, laugh­ing. “You think you have com­plete con­trol over the en­vi­ron­ment in telling a story. But some­times things just break your way.”

The adage about luck oc­cur­ring when prepa­ra­tion meets op­por­tu­nity comes to mind be­cause Low­ery makes films with a metic­u­lous sense of de­tail; with

care­fully cal­i­brated con­trasts be­tween si­lence and sound; char­ac­ters whose gen­tly chang­ing ex­pres­sions of­ten carry more in­for­ma­tion than pages of writ­ten words could; pal­ettes that find worlds of var­ie­ga­tion within just a few col­ors.

The vis­ual pre­ci­sion in Low­ery’s films of­ten pairs with more va­porous themes, as his body of work thus far rep­re­sents one man’s ef­forts to present pre­cisely re­al­ized sto­ries about big philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions to which there are no an­swers.“The Old Man & the Gun,” which opens Fri­day, is the fifth fea­ture in an al­ready dis­tin­guished body of work by a 37-year-old au­teur. The film again finds Low­ery tog­gling be­tween heavy and lighter tones from movie to movie. His pre­vi­ous film, “A Ghost Story,” is about as heavy a film as has been made about a weight­less en­tity. Be­fore that, he made a 21st-cen­tury ver­sion of the fam­ily film “Pete’s Dragon.”

Though “The Old Man & the Gun,” true to its ti­tle, in­volves a fair bit of gun­play, the film’s voice is rather play­ful at times. Low­ery based it on David Grann’s 2003 New Yorker ar­ti­cle about For­rest Tucker, a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian whose call­ing in life was to rob banks. If he had a sec­ondary gift, it was es­cap­ing in­car­cer­a­tion, most fa­mously a break from Cal­i­for­nia’s San Quentin State Prison in 1979.

That time stamp is pressed into Low­ery’s film, as he clearly rev­els in the cars, suits and fa­cial hair of the late 1970s. And by cast­ing Red­ford and Sissy Spacek as two not-quite-star-crossed lovers, he ex­presses his affin­ity for works from that era by Ter­rence Mal­ick as well as old Red­ford films “The Chase” and “The Sting.”

A more re­cent in­flu­ence also sur­faces, an­other Texas di­rec­tor with an ex­act­ing sense of de­tail. Watch­ing Red­ford’s crook in “The Old Man & the Gun,” I thought of a line from Wes An­der­son’s “Rush­more,” whose cen­tral pri­vate school stu­dent Max Fis­cher is asked about his se­cret to life: “I guess you’ve just gotta find some­thing you love to do and then do it for the rest of your life,” he replies. “For me, it’s go­ing to Rush­more.”

For­rest Tucker’s Rush­more was rob­bing banks.

“To be hon­est, I thought about ‘Rush­more’ a lot while mak­ing the film,” Low­ery says. “It’s one of my fa­vorite movies, stylis­ti­cally and the­mat­i­cally.”

Low­ery’s Rush­more is cinema, which he be­gan to fol­low as a stu­dent at Irv­ing High School in the Dal­las area. He made his first film at 19 and set about cre­at­ing a cinema scene in Dal­las rather than re­lo­cat­ing to Austin. “St. Nick,” a story of two run­aways, was re­leased in 2009 and drew some in­ter­est. His next film, “Ain’t Them Bod­ies Saints,” was a deep piece on love and con­nec­tion dis­guised as a cops-and­crooks film. Play­ful as it was, even his “Pete’s Dragon” was in­fused with thoughts and anx­i­eties about the fleet­ing na­ture of youth. “A Ghost Story,” re­leased last year, was a deep med­i­ta­tion on time, which Low­ery con­densed and col­lapsed to such a small per­sonal unit be­fore the con­cept ex­ploded out­ward again.

Nat­u­rally, he sought a dif­fer­ent tone for his next film. “There does seem to be this through-line with my films,” he ac­knowl­edges. “Part of it is mov­ing away from com­fort zones about what I’ve done most re­cently. ‘A Ghost Story’ and this film are kind of con­joined in my mind, even though they’re very dif­fer­ent. So it’s a con­stant con­ver­sa­tion with my­self.”

Not un­like Tucker, who feels a pull to­ward com­mit­ment on one hand and a pull to­ward, well, rob­bing the next bank on the other.

“There’s no way to es­cape who we are,” Low­ery says. “I think that comes through in the movie.”

But “The Old Man & the Gun” sug­gests that who we are can be a push-pull process that doesn’t halt with young adult­hood. Hunt has a young fam­ily and a sense of up­ward move­ment in his work. Tucker has no fa­mil­ial tether and op­er­ates al­most from what one might call his “na­ture.”

Low­ery un­der­cuts decades of cin­e­matic con­fronta­tion be­tween two tough guys in “Gun.”

“There was a ten­sion, but there’s also this be­grudg­ing ad­mi­ra­tion, as well as this sense of Hunt be­ing starstruck in a way,” Low­ery says. “What is it like meet­ing a movie star face to face? In a way, we all know some ver­sion of that ex­pe­ri­ence. It also re­minded me of meet­ing Red­ford the first time.”

Play­ful cat-and-mouse mo­ments abound, but the film’s qui­eter mo­ments draw a lit­tle from “A Ghost Story”: Does there come a point at which one out­grows his or her na­ture and/or nur­ture? The ac­crued knowl­edge from one’s life can prompt re­flec­tion, but can it ini­ti­ate change?

And can a per­son be “good” when his sole pur­pose ap­pears to be the peace­ful theft of cur­rency from an in­sti­tu­tion?

Some­thing about the pre­sen­ta­tion of this cop-and-rob­ber story feels strangely hope­ful dur­ing times full of con­flict.

“I’m hope­ful peo­ple see the sweet­ness in the film,” Low­ery says. “I feel like that’s part of what I try to do: to be a nice per­son. I still take great so­lace in the in­trin­sic good­ness in hu­man­ity. It’s not al­ways the case. There are times good­ness runs out. But I like the idea that peo­ple can dis­agree yet still find good­ness in those around them.”


Fox Search­light

“The Old Man & the Gun” stars Sissy Spacek and Robert Red­ford. “There’s no es­cap­ing who we are,” film­maker David Low­ery says. “I think that comes through in the movie.”

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