The Old Way

It's totally understandable that Nicolas Cage would want to make a Western. He's never been in one before, so it's a new genre to tackle. What's less clear is why he'd want to make The Old Way. This Walmart Unforgiven is thoroughly color-by-numbers in its plotting. Assuming he's watched at least a few films in the genre, Cage certainly must have recognized the utter lack of originality in the screenplay. Who knows – maybe he just figured the opportunity to do a Western might not come around again, so why not grab it? Regardless, this is one of the least interesting pictures he's ever done.

You'll see where the story is going before I finish summarizing it. Cage plays Colton Briggs, a former gunslinger who was known for his lethality. He put down his guns after falling in love with wife Ruth (Kerry Knuppe). Now he runs a store and helps raise their daughter Brooke (Firestarter's Ryan Kiera Armstrong). One day, James McCallister (Noah Le Gros) shows up at Colton's home with his gang in tow. They're Boots (Shiloh Fernandez), Big Mike (Abraham Benrubi), and Eustice (Clint Howard). Briggs once killed McCallister's daddy, and he wants revenge. The men kill Ruth in retaliation, prompting Briggs to return to his violent ways in order to hunt them down and make them pay. To do that, he has to outsmart Marshal Jarret (Nick Searcy), the lawman who would prefer to apprehend the McCallister gang legally.

That plot could not be more cliched. We even get the obligatory scene where Briggs teaches Brooke how to shoot a gun after she expresses a desire to help. (Gee, do you think an opportune moment for her to utilize that skill will materialize?) Writer Carl W. Lucas apparently thinks that over-writing the dialogue is the key to hiding the story's predictability. The characters give long, dull monologues that slow down the pace. Briggs gives a speech about how Ruth inspired him to change. McCallister gives a speech that goes into excruciating detail about his grudge against Briggs. Jarret gives a speech to Brooke in the last scene, taking two minutes to say something that could be conveyed in two seconds.

When it's not boring us with long-winded exposition, the movie utilizes laughable dialogue. At one point, McCallister says, “Briggs ain't the kind of man to walk into an ambush unprepared.” Isn't the whole point of an ambush to catch someone unprepared? What does this nonsense even mean?

Not even the performances work, because the actors don't seem to be in agreement on what kind of movie they're making. Le Gros, Benrubi, Searcy, and Howard all ham it up for the camera, as if taking part in a Western theme-park show. Howard, in particular, seems to be trying to channel Walter Houston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Cage, meanwhile, attempts to mimic the laconic Clint Eastwood vibe, a feat he pulled off more successfully in the non-Western Pig. Armstrong is primarily used for comic relief, which is a shame because exploring Brooke's grief over losing her mother would have given the film a little depth.

The Old Way of course builds to the climactic shootout right in the middle of town. Here it strives for profundity that it has not even begun to earn. Director Brett Donowho stages the finale as though we're supposed to be emotionally devastated by what happens, but again, the events are easy to predict, and therefore dramatically flat. Unlike Unforgiven – or other revisionist Westerns, for that matter – the film doesn't really have anything to say about the life of violence or the mindset that fuels such a life. It's a disappointingly hollow clone of better pictures.

out of four

The Old Way is rated R for violence. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.