If “The Old Way” is remembered as a cinematic footnote in years to come, it will most likely be for one of two things:
- Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the first Western Nicolas Cage has done in a career spanning more than 40 years and approaching 100 roles.
- During filming in Montana in 2021, Cage reportedly walked off the set over concerns about armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s handling of firearms. Two months later, Gutierrez-Reed was the armorer on the set of “Rust” when a shooting accident killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.
As for the film itself: Director Brett Donowho and cinematographer Sion Michel have teamed up to deliver a handsomely mounted production, and Cage dials down the histrionics to give an effective, gritty performance as a kind of lower-key version of Clint Eastwood’s William Munny in “Unforgiven.” But this is a revenge Western we’ve seen dozens of times before, and the villains aren’t nearly as intimidating and pitch-black evil as they need to be. The end result is a passably entertaining shoot-’em-up with very few surprises.
Cage’s Colton Briggs is a former gunslinger who has buried the past and now lives in the country with his saintly wife Ruth (Kerry Knuppe) and their 12-year-old daughter, a precocious and eccentric child named Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). One fine early morning, Ruth is tied up doing household chores, so she has Colton walk Brooke to school. Neither Colton nor Brooke seems thrilled with this development; it’s clear they haven’t spent a lot of quality time together. When they arrive at the school only to learn classes have been canceled, Colton takes Brooke to the general store in town he operates. For the bulk of the day, Brooke meticulously separates every jellybean into jars according to color. It appears she’s on the spectrum, and Colton might be as well, given some hints thrown out later.
While Colton and Brooke are in town, a posse of ruthless thugs swoops down on the family home, and let’s just say Ruth Briggs isn’t long for this world. Brooke’s reaction to her mother’s death? Nothing. She feels … nothing. Colton, meanwhile, is hell-bent on tracking down the men who killed his wife, but he can’t exactly leave behind a 12-year-old girl, so Brooke joins him and turns out to be quite the sidekick. (A lack of empathy comes in handy when you have to help torture someone or handle a gun.)
Granted, the idea of a former gunman with an apparently autistic daughter hunting down a band of outlaws with the intention of killing them — that’s some pretty original material right there. Alas, Noah LeGros makes for an underwhelming adversary as the primary villain, and a subplot involving Nick Searcy as a marshal who talks in grandiose terms but is rather lousy at his job just stalls the action. Cage wears the cowboy hat well and has a few choice moments, but “The Old Way” sputters to a conclusion we saw coming a mile down the road.