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The Old Way Film Review: A Nic Cage Western

Nicolas Cage is the unsurprising standout of The Old Way, but his talents are utilized in an otherwise inconsistently directed and written Western.

I usually don’t get drawn to films based solely on their actors, but… The Old Way is a Western starring Nicolas Cage. How was I supposed to not be intrigued? I wanted to see what could be done with that, even if the premise sounded really standard on paper… and sadly, it’s just as standard in the finished product. Nicolas Cage plays Colton Briggs, a man who used to be a killer but is now living a peaceful life with his wife Ruth (Kerry Knuppe) and daughter Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). But when another outlaw from his past (Noah Le Gros) comes to take revenge, Colton and Brooke set out to find him and take vengeance back. This brings the killer nature of Colton back out, causes him to question whether it’s right to lead his daughter down this path, forces him to face the sins of his past, and leads to pretty much every other trope you’d probably expect to come out of this setup.

Cage, obviously the biggest draw of The Old Way for most people, thankfully delivers as the standout of the film, and not even in the kind of over-the-top way we all love to meme about. As much fun as it is to laugh at him in his craziest roles, he really is a legitimately great actor both comedically and dramatically, and that’s no different here. He takes this relatively generic material and gives it the weight and intensity that no one else in the film manages to bring, at least not with as much consistency as him. I really wish I could say the same for Ryan Kiera Armstrong, especially considering her age, but she’s really all over the place. Sometimes she’s chillingly good, while other times she’s almost humorously flat. I really don’t blame her, since she has the toughest role in the film, as a girl who’s supposed to be unnaturally tough while also being confused by the world her father is from, while selling all of that coming from a twelve-year-old.

And it’s not like Armstrong is the only inconsistent actor in The Old Way. Nobody’s bad overall, but very rarely does anyone outside of Cage really manage to go above and beyond what the script has for them. Noah Le Gros works well as a smarmy, cocky villain, but he doesn’t bring anything more than that, even though his backstory should have him be more than that. Everyone else is just passable, which I think is more symptomatic of the writing from Carl W. Lucas and directing from Brett Donowho. I’m more than okay with a familiar or by-the-numbers story if it’s either executed really well or given a new spin. The Old Way not only plays the story far too straightforwardly for the latter, but it also contains a lot of dialogue whose only main priority seems to just be to function. There is an occasional really clever line here or there, but for the most part everyone just says what they need to say to move the story along or explain some history or emotion, without really taking any extra steps to have us feel that history or emotion. The few instances where we get a scene that can cut deep are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Nicolas Cage in The Old Way
Nicolas Cage in The Old Way (Saban Films)

I’m also not completely sure what tone The Old Way is going for. About 80% of the time, it seems to take itself seriously, from the acting to the writing to how scenes are paced and portrayed. The opening sequence is certainly good at setting a dark, grounded tone, with solid tension and action to boot. But every now and then there’s a really wonky line with a wonkier delivery. One scene features Brooke needing to distract someone by pretending to cry, even though she’s never cried before. And I get that it’s supposed to be off and a little bizarre, but… it’s so off and bizarre that it would only work in a really ridiculous comedy. There are a few scenes like that, where the film tries to have levity but it goes too silly, or where it seems to want to be taken seriously but the material is so clichéd that it gets a bit of an unintentional laugh.

The score (Andrew Morgan Smith) is the same way, too. It works well for the heavier, more suspenseful scenes, but any time it wants you to feel upbeat and happy, it’s overly saccharine and in your face, and it can’t transition well between those two sides. Colton and Brooke have the best scene in the film during an in-depth discussion on what they’re doing and how it affects them, with both of them crushing the performances. But the film almost immediately cuts to them moving along with that upbeat music, and it’s way too jarring. At least The Old Way looks very nice. It’s far from the best-looking Western ever, but Sion Michel’s cinematography does the setting justice, and the framing and blocking can get surprisingly cinematic in a number of scenes, making this at the very least a watchable film.

But that’s as far as I can go in praising The Old Way as a whole: it’s watchable. It’s alright. Nothing about it is terrible, and its merits stand out just enough to balance out what either doesn’t quite work or is too basic to excel. Diehard Nicolas Cage fans will definitely find the film worth watching just for his great work, and those who can’t get enough of Westerns should have enough positive takeaways to be glad they saw it as well. I really can’t think of anyone coming out of this angry that they wasted their time, especially with how quickly the film flies by. But I’d be surprised to see a ton of accolades for it either and wouldn’t call it a must-see at all. Take that for what it’s worth and decide for yourself if you want to give it a shot.

The Old Way will be released in US theaters on January 6, 2023, and on Digital and PVOD on January 13.

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