REVIEW: “The Old Way” (2023)

In this wild and crazy “Age of Cage” (a phrase borrowed from the title of a terrific book from Keith Phipps – you should read it), there isn’t an idea, a style, or a genre that the 58-year-old nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola won’t try. The prolific Nicolas Cage has become something of a cultural phenomenon and seems to have fully embraced his cult status as evident by last year’s feature length self-parody “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”.

Cage shows no signs of slowing down. He has six movies in the works including his latest, “The Old Way”. It’s a Western that sees Cage playing a retired gunslinger whose past sins come back to haunt him. This modestly budgeted but handsomely shot genre flick comes from director and producer Brett Donowho who seems well studied on the classic Western form. Perhaps a little too studied at times, as his film leans pretty heavy on the countless movie and television Westerns that came before it.

Image Courtesy of Saban Films

This comes through most in the script penned by Carl W. Lucas. His age-old tale of revenge is chock full of well-worn genre tropes, and anyone who is the slightest bit familiar with classic Westerns will know exactly where “The Old Way” is going within the first ten minutes. Yet despite its by-the-book story and (at times) storytelling, there’s a certain charm to the film which is mostly due to the performances of Cage and his young co-star Ryan Kiera Armstrong.

In an opening prologue we’re introduced to a notorious hired gun named Colton Briggs (Cage sporting a hilariously bad mustache meant to make him look younger I suppose). When a public hanging goes sideways, Briggs is forced to kill a man in front of his young son. Briggs hops on his horse and rides away while the camera slow zooms in on the face of the seething boy. Of course the most basic understanding of Westerns 101 let’s us know that this is one killing that’s going to have consequences.

Hop ahead to twenty years later. Briggs has shaved off his mustache (good move) and put his gunfighting days behind him. These days he runs a small town mercantile. But the biggest change is that he’s now happily married to his wife Ruth (Kerry Knuppe) and they have a 12-year-old daughter together named Brooke (Armstrong). All seems right for the one-time killer, but of course it’s short lived.

While Briggs and Brooke are in town at their store, back home Ruth is approached by a not-so-mysterious stranger named James McAllister (Noah Le Gros). It turns out he has a score to settle with Briggs (and I bet you can guess what it is). And what better way than to kill the woman he loves. But McCallister and his henchmen (played by Shiloh Fernandez, Clint Howard, and Abraham Benrubi) don’t quite realize what they’ve done. But we do thanks to some comically on-the-button lines like “You boys have woke up the devil.

Image Courtesy of Saban Films

After Federal Marshall Jarret (Nick Searcy) informs him that his wife is dead, a quietly simmering Briggs dusts off his old six-shooters and sets out for revenge with young Brooke in tow. While his cold-blooded killer impulses immediately rush to the surface, his fairly new fatherly instincts remain, making for a pretty interesting conflict that Donowho and Lucas have fun exploring. It comes to a head in one particular campfire monologue that has no reason to work. But it’s so much fun, simply by it being Nic Cage delivering it. It’s a weird variable, I know. Yet it’s something he brings that’s uniquely his own.

I love westerns and have grown to appreciate them more as they have become more scarce. This one won’t bag Cage his second Academy Award, but fans of the enigmatic star will have fun with it. The story does some interesting things with the struggle between his character’s cold-blooded instincts and his newfound conscience. And young Armstrong makes for a good sidekick. But don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before. I had a good time with “The Old Way”, but it’ll have a hard time standing out. And Cage’s growing cult status can only carry it so far. “The Old Way” hits theaters January 6th.


6 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Old Way” (2023)

  1. Love the book title for its cleverness — and accuracy! Cage is an energizer bunny of cinema-hopping. I see him as more than a few notches up from Liam and Mel. There is still a heart beating in that grizzled chest. Will see this when it is released on DVD/streaming.

    • “Energizer bunny” is such a fitting description. I wish there wasn’t as much forgettable stuff from him. But you’re right. He seems to be having so much fun doing what he’s doing.

  2. Dammit, why do they keep casting Shiloh Fernandez? That pretty-boy can’t act for shit. Sometimes, his appearances are kept to a minimum to keep a movie from sucking but to drag down Nic Cage is blasphemy.

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