Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Nick Searcy
Director: Brett Donowho
Mood: If you’re trapped in a customer service-type role and are tired of fake wholesome content and need a Western that’s unapologetically murder-y.
The Old Way made me think Cage is meant for Westerns – or at least for this particular Western. If you’ve seen the movie’s pitiful scores on other review sites, you probably think I’m crazy. But hear me out!
When Cage isn’t doing his iconic, profanity-laden freakouts, his delivery can be kind of wooden. Not always; apparently he’s great in Mandy. And in Pig, but I will probably never watch that one because the pignapping scene in the trailer made me bawl. I am NOT cut out for a sad pig movie.
Anyway, in The Old Way Cage plays a neurodivergent character who spent most of his life unable to relate to human emotions and thus is the perfect mercenary. Cage’s assignment is basically to be as wooden as possible – so it’s not a stretch. It’s the exact same Nicolas Cage you get in interviews like this one where he admits that he likes playing characters where no acting is required.
The downside is that you can’t really like or relate to him. Luckily Ryan Kiera Armstrong provides a great balance – even though she, too, is playing an emotionless, neurodivergent character.
It’s the first time I can say that two actors who purposely had zero natural chemistry delivered a great on-screen relationship.
Even if you’re not a part of Cage’s cult following, The Old Way is a solid Western that I only wish was about 20 minutes longer so there was more time to explore the characters. It was good enough to make me lose a few hours watching Cage clips on YouTube, and make a weekend of it by watching Renfield the next day.
The Old Way has a familiar Western premise. It opens on a public hanging, during which bounty hunter Colton Briggs (Nicolas Cage) shoots a man in front of his son. The look on the boy’s face tells you he’s going to grow up determined to get revenge.
Sure enough, 20 years later Briggs is trying to be a good guy, albeit a surly one, living as a shopkeeper and family man. One day he takes his young daughter to school, and some bad men visit his farm and kill his wife. Surprise! It’s the lad whose dad he killed, all grown up (Noah Le Gros as James McCallister).
It’s a little confusing for a minute because it seems like the men come upon the farm by coincidence, and McCallister only realizes that it’s his enemy’s home when he sees Briggs’s saddle. At that point they’ve already been harassing the wife. So maybe McCallister just grew up angry and murder-y, and wouldn’t have sought revenge if it hadn’t been dropped in his lap?
Either way, US Marshal Jarrett (Nick Searcy) is tracking the gang. He tells Briggs not to go seeking revenge on the guy who just did revenge on him. But we all know from the title that the bounty hunter must return to his old ways, and go on one last ride.
The problem is that Briggs now has his little girl in tow. Much man-hunting and action ensues. The ending is actually not entirely predictable.
My favourite thing about The Old Way is that, as mentioned, it’s a Western with not one but TWO neurodivergent lead characters.
Brooke (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong) is at once unemotional and sharply observant, just like her dad. They start out barely tolerating each other, but start to bond over their inability to empathize with people and their feelings.
This is where I wish the movie was longer, because those moments between Cage and Armstrong are highly entertaining. Rather than be motivated by his daughter’s presence to be a better person, Briggs nurtures his mini-me to be more like HIM. He’s teaching his daughter to mimic ‘normal’ people so she can fit in, but also how to shoot, how to torture, and how to kill.
Kerry Knuppe is a brief standout as Briggs’s wife. Nick Searcy is great as Marshall Jarrett. He’s super convincing, and he wins best moustache for the film. Not that the bar was set high – Cage’s moustache in the opening scenes is okay, but nothing to discuss with Western fans. Still, Searcy is someone I’m going to follow.
The bad guys are mostly solid too, although as with the leads, I’d have liked a little more character development. Noah Le Gros isn’t going on the record as a legendary Western villain, but he’s not bad either. And it’s fun to see Abraham Benrubi in a darker role, after enjoying his sweet appearance in Open Range.
And through it all, Clint Howard is like a demented Johnny Reb prophet who knows f-all about anything except Colton Briggs. At least two thirds of his lines are telling everyone that you should never cross Briggs and that they’re all going to die. But to be fair, do you really want more Clint Howard in your movie?
There is so much great action in this movie. I’m not blind to the fact that The Old Way’s story has been done before. But let’s be real, everything we watch now has been influenced by past works, so it’s kind of pointless to complain about recycling plots.
Let me back that up by saying that I’m also a giant hypocrite, because if I don’t like a movie I’ll be quick to point out if it reuses ideas. This is my website, I can do what I want.
My point is, though, that they made thousands of Westerns in the first half of the 1900s. Many current writers and directors and actors were raised either worshipping Westerns, or having to sit through them with a parent who loved them. You’re getting their collective exposure to the genre in what they deliver.
You just have to hope for little bits of freshness. And The Old Way feels fresh to me with its honest, if imperfect, portrayal of us freaks and geeks on the outskirts of normal. Rather than pretend that the characters are just quirky or stoic like in other Westerns, there are actual discussions of a condition that wouldn’t have been understood at the time.
I was hooked for this entire movie, and I would watch it again. Cage is giving a dramatic cocktail of past characters in a way that’s sometimes funny, occasionally funny in the wrong way, but engaging and appropriate for the role.
Casting Ryan Kiera Armstrong as his daughter was kind of perfect. Armstrong won a Razzie that was later removed for her performance in Firestarter. So here you have two actors who have been criticized for being too flat, showing you that not everyone has a massive range of emotions.
Emotions detract from Westerns anyway. Give me antiheroes living authentically anywhere on the spectrum, any day.