The Old Way

The Old Way

2022, R, 95 min. Directed by Brett Donowho. Starring Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Noah Le Gros, Nick Searcy, Kerry Knuppe, Abraham Benrubi, Clint Howard, Shiloh Fernandez.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Jan. 6, 2023

For an actor that's been historically so prolific and genre-friendly, it seems a little strange that Nicolas Cage has never done a horse opera. Sure, he's dabbled in neo-Westerns like the dusty noir Red Rock West, but he's never saddled up for a simple black hat/white hat fight.

Nor is that quite what happens in The Old Way, which moseys into town like a classic death-of-the-frontier tale of an old gunsel forced to pick up his shooting irons one more time. Used to be that it was a Gary Cooper kind of good man who thought he'd put all that killin' behind him. Then it was an Eastwood-esque grizzled killer who knew this day would come. Not Colton Briggs, a cold-blooded murderer with all the charm and moral compass of Jack Palance in Shane, who somehow manages to not only get married but have a daughter (Armstrong) and start running a small town mercantile. Of course, this picture of happiness is shattered when a charming outlaw (1883's Le Gros) and his gang of recognizable character actors (especially Benrubi as a mountain of a man and Howard as the ultimate grizzled old Johnny Reb) kill his wife, sending now-single-parent Colton and the oddly unemotional Brooke on a bloody path of revenge.

A constant, and very superficial, criticism of Cage is that he'll take any project just to keep working. The truth is more complex. Cage has admitted that he loves to work, that it keeps his own personal demons at bay, but there's always a little something in every movie he picks that raises it above the direct-to-video slush pile. In the case of The Old Way, it's an unexpected kinship with Ti West's bloody frontier revenger In a Valley of Violence. That was superficially another story of a man looking to put his deadly ways behind him and failing, but its heart was about a Civil War soldier struggling with PTSD in a time when no one had any concept of what that meant. In The Old Way, it's no surprise that a lifetime of killing has left Colton hollow and remote from the world, but the question quickly rises: What if that remoteness came first? And what if that young apple hasn't fallen so far from the old tree?

Yes, The Old Way is at first glimpse merely a classic revenger, but it's also vintage low-key Cage, with that acid little twist that makes it all the more fascinating. And it's not just in his performance, but in how Armstrong reflects and elaborates on what he does (keep an eye on those all-important jelly beans), or the furrowed brow of a U.S. Marshal (a suitably bluff Searcy) who is increasingly aware that, scary as daddy Colton is, Brooke may be the real reason to keep one eye open when you sleep. It's that Cage spin that makes the bullets fly just right.

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The Old Way, Brett Donowho, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Noah Le Gros, Nick Searcy, Kerry Knuppe, Abraham Benrubi, Clint Howard, Shiloh Fernandez

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