THE OLD WAY review by Mark Walters – Nicolas Cage stars in his first Western… and it’s really good

THE OLD WAY review by Mark Walters – Nicolas Cage stars in his first Western… and it’s really good

It’s hard to believe that after doing over 100 movies and such a wide variety of roles, Nicolas Cage has yet to do a Western… until now. THE OLD WAY puts Cage in the role of Colton Briggs, who we see in an introductory flashback is a ruthless killer who murders for money, and will kill anyone who tries to stop him. Cut to a few decades later, Briggs has now left his violent ways behind him, and is attempting to live as a family man, married to a caring woman who tends to their home, and raising a young daughter, while also managing a general store in town. One day Colton leaves with his daughter Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) planning to walk her to school, only to find the teacher is out sick, so she spends the day working in the store with him. Back home, Colton’s wife is ambushed by four men led by James McCallister (Noah Le Gros), a man looking for vengeance against her husband. When Colton and his daughter return home, they find Marshal Jarret (Nick Searcy) and his deputies on his property, surprised to know this homestead belonged to a full family. Jarret realizes who Briggs is (or rather was), and informs Colton his wife was murdered, but refuses to disclose the perpetrators’ identities telling him they’ll pursue them and bring them to justice, and warning him that times have changed and Colton is not to take matters into his own hands.

But let’s face it, if Briggs doesn’t go after the murderers, we don’t have much of a story, so we soon find Colton and Brooke armed up and on the trail of McCallister and his men. Along the way, we learn that both Colton and his daughter seem to share an emotional disconnect, unable to properly mourn the loss of someone they love, and seemingly incapable of caring about killing someone. It’s a subtle but important observation of Autism and similar behaviors, something we don’t really see explored much in period pieces, especially Westerns. The journey of Colton and his daughter is reminiscent of classic stories like TRUE GRIT or even Lone Wolf and Cub, but manages to do some unique and inspired moments while still delivering all the things you look for in a good Western tale.

Director Brett Donowho does an excellent job of keeping the story moving at a brisk pace, and giving all of the characters specific moments to shine. Shot in Montana, the film’s scope is at times sweeping and majestic thanks to the wonderful cinematography of Sion Michel. Donowho’s entire team has crafted a thoughtful and sincere look at the period, with even the costume design by Vicki Hales feeling meticulous and authentic all while looking at times unusual and even daring. Nothing in THE OLD WAY feels rushed or lazy, even the energetic score by Andrew Morgan Smith is engaging and fitting in each and every scene. But one thing that really stands out is the film’s sense of adventurous fun – even when the material goes into dark areas that in other similar films could seem gloomy or depressing, THE OLD WAY has an energy to it that allows the audience to just enjoy the ride.

The performances are all quite impressive too. Nicolas Cage isn’t his sometimes boisterous self here, but rather plays a man filled with rage and discomfort trying to keep it all bottled in. There are little moments that brilliantly define his character, like the disconcerting way he looks at people who are just asking simple questions, or the painful yet earnest way he tries to teach his daughter ways of survival. It’s a reigned in reading for the seasoned actor, but there’s something so perfect about it. Noah Le Gros is clearly having fun playing the villainous McCallister, a man with his own demons and purpose, but one who clearly isn’t above using others to achieve his goals. I loved seeing veteran actors Clint Howard, Abraham Benrubi and Shiloh Fernandez playing McCallister’s dysfunctional team, not at all polished or in unison with one another, very much feeling like poor souls thrown together out of desperation. And Nick Searcy (JUSTIFIED) is excellent as Marshal Jarret, a man who seems to be pushing for justice and progression, though one who has clearly seen things in his day, and knows the kind of man Briggs is inside. But the clear standout in this piece is Ryan Kiera Armstrong playing Briggs’ daughter Brooke, giving a magnificent performance in a complex role for a young actress, and really holding her own in multiple major dialogue scenes with a heavy hitter like Cage. This is a star-making performance for her, and so important toward allowing this story to either succeed or fail… she is a revelation, and elevates every scene she’s in.

THE OLD WAY may feel familiar in some regards, but takes bold chances in others, and as a Western I found it highly satisfying and effective. And as someone who has family members with Autism, I appreciated the way that was addressed and includes in the story here, definitely adding layers to these terrific characters. This is not big budget Hollywood flash, more like an Art House film that’s making the most of what it has to work with. It’s also refreshing to see an R-rated film that is violent when necessary without feeling gratuitous or excessive. Westerns are best when they’re gritty and not restrained, but I appreciated Donowho’s execution on the final product, never taking things too far so as to turn off the audience. I cannot stress this enough, this is a good Western because it’s an adventurous and fun Western, and one I plan to revisit sooner than later.

THE OLD WAY is now playing in theaters, and on Premium Video on Demand & Premium Digital January 13, 2023


For info on the film and finding a theater near you, CLICK HERE.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.