Although the iconic 82-year-old actor has been walking back his comments that he would retire after The Old Man & the Gun, Robert Redford raised the idea during filming with director and Milwaukee-area native David Lowery. “I felt instantly pressure that had not been there before,” Lowery said. “[His comments added] an air of finality or a sense that this would be his last will and testament. Now it’s hard to think about the movie outside of that context.”
Today Lowery calls Austin, Texas, home, but he was born in Waukesha, and his father’s side of the family is from Milwaukee. After moving away when he was eight years old, Lowery would often return to visit his grandparents. Redford’s character in The Old Man & the Gun, an aging bank robber, escapes from the Milwaukee County Jail, a detail Lowery calls “a nod” to the city. Although the story is fact-based, he added, the incident is fictitious.
The Old Man & the Gun opens at the Downer Theater Thursday, Oct. 11, a few weeks short of the Milwaukee Film Festival, where his earlier film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was shown. He has been on the festival jury and appeared on panels.
“I just keep finding excuses to come back,” Lowery said, although he will miss this year’s event.
If Old Man is indeed Redford’s valedictory work, Lowery has helped the actor go out on a high note. The film has wit and energy, and it tonally references Redford classics like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Sting.
“I tried to make this movie in as old-fashioned a way as possible,” (including shooting on film) said Lowery. “Not to steep it in nostalgia but to feel akin to films made in that period.”
Old Man is based on on a New Yorker article that Redford wanted to develop for years. “He saw it as an opportunity to play an outlaw again and to give himself a spiritual follow-up to some of his classics,” Lowery said. The Sundance Film Festival founder approached Lowery about making the film. “Of course I said yes.”
Despite winning an Oscar for directing Ordinary People, Redford “completely deferred” to Lowery. “He really respects the line between actor and director. [Talking to him] was one of the great joys of my life.”
Old Man is the third time Lowery has worked with Casey Affleck, who appeared in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and what Lowery called his most personal film A Ghost Story. Lowery acknowledged charges of sexual harassment that caused Affleck, who won an Oscar for Manchester By the Sea, to skip the ceremonies the following year, but called Affleck “a friend.”
“[Some people] should be put away forever,” he said, calling the allegations against Affleck “a moral gray area…that we have to work through.”
“It would be easy to…turn your back on people and call it a day. But when you know someone…is a good person you want to see them constructively work through things and make it better,” Lowery said.
Currently Lowery, who directed a remake of the Disney film Pete’s Dragon, is preparing a remake of Peter Pan for the studio.