Nic Cage plays a retired gunslinger forced back into action in The Old Way, his first ever Western – here’s our review.
Nicolas Cage is an actor who’s become known in recent years for starring in and championing small independent films. He continues to do so with The Old Way – the actor’s first Western, or at least the first to get a wide release (his other Western, Butcher’s Crossing, premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival).
Directed by Brett Donowho and written by Carl W. Lucas, The Old Way is a narratively familiar Western about gunslingers with dark pasts that come back to haunt them, but also a film that’s very aware of Cage’s beloved status and that tries to have fun with him in the lead role.
When it comes to the main character of Colton Briggs, however, fun is not a word I imagine he’s heard of. We’re introduced to Briggs when, sporting a ridiculous moustache, he saves the life of a man about to be hanged in front of his son. The man then ungratefully (and absurdly) turns on him, forcing Briggs to shoot him dead. Fast forward a fair few years and he’s put down his pistol, shaved the moustache and become a family man. He’s clearly still no fun, though, as his daughter Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) refers to him as ‘sir’.
It’s not long before the past catches up with him and his family, with James McAllister (Noah Le Gros) seeking revenge on the man who killed his father. He may be surrounded by easily forgettable lackeys, but Le Gros oozes menace from his initial scenes onwards. He exerts a quiet power over the film, knowing that you don’t have to snarl all the time to be a terrifying baddie.
It becomes clear quickly after that, as Briggs and his daughter embark on a quest to kill McAllister and his men, that Cage’s character is the John Wick of the Western. Outlaws say the name of Colton Briggs with fear, the Marshall (Nick Searcy) utters it cautiously. It’s a trope we’ve seen in a lot of recent action films, and here it sometimes feels silly (the action scenes don’t wholly justify this reputation), but it’s still entertaining.
Briggs and Brooke pursue McAllister on horseback through some beautiful scenic landscapes. This time also allows for Briggs and his daughter to grapple with their new situation and do a bit of bonding. However, what would otherwise be sentimental moments are actually rather awkward on account of how Brooke’s character has been written. It seems Armstrong is in the process of making strange children her signature role, as Brooke is a weirdly emotionless child. What starts out seeming like inquisitiveness soon turns into an aloofness that’s heightened by some very odd dialogue.
If your child says the smell of cauterising a wound makes them hungry, there’s probably some cause for concern. I swear I’m not making this up.
On one hand, Brooke’s detachment means she adapts to her new situation very quickly, allowing for more action involving her. On the other, there’s very little character development, and that’s a real problem when The Old Way places Brooke’s arc at the centre of the film.
Without the enthralling performances of Cage and Le Gros, The Old Way would draw more attention to its cheesy script and feel a lot more generic. With them present, though, this Western turns out more engaging than it perhaps ought to be.
The Old Way is in cinemas and on digital platforms now.
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