The Old Way (2023)
Directed by Brett Donowho
Colton Briggs (Nicolas Cage) once had a mustache almost as big as his revolver. That was back when he was a lawman in town, shooting outlaws without remorse. He killed a lot of people, he admits. But years later, Briggs is a family man with a wife (Kerry Knuppe), a teenaged daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), and a very lowkey general store. He’s settled down. But as we’ll soon learn, Briggs is just one tragic incident away from returning to his old ways.
In Nicolas Cage’s first traditional Western, “The Old Way,” he looks less like a real Old West gunslinger and more like a fictional actor known for playing an Old West gunslinger who now looks back on his career with regret. You know the type of movie I’m talking about, right? “The Old Way” looks like the sort of movie that would show up in a sizzle reel before a fictional actor takes the stage to accept a lifetime achievement award he doesn’t think he deserves.
“The Old Way” is definitely a movie, but it’s missing a lot of the hallmarks of a real movie. It doesn’t have any sense of time or place, like all the best Westerns. The small sets are limiting. They don’t offer any texture. The movie takes what is traditionally the most aesthetically interesting setting in all of cinema—the Old West saloon—and made it a boring barn with a bar. What few extras are scattered throughout the scenes mostly stay quiet, like NPCs in a video game. They’re just…there. Even the Montana landscapes don’t look as glorious as the ones in “Yellowstone.” “The Old Way” is like an off-brand Western.
I’ve never been one of those Nic Cage bootlickers. It’s pretty clear in my mind that Cage is an objectively sub-par actor whose fame far exceeds his talent. Nearly every time I see him in a movie, my opinion is confirmed. Even in the few movies I have enjoyed that star him—like “Mom and Dad,” “Kickass,” and “National Treasure”—I think I’m laughing at him more than I’m laughing with him. It only works because the movie’s brand aligns with his own. In “The Old Way,” he has absolutely no chemistry with his on-screen daughter (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who starred in last year’s remake of “Firestarter”) and a couple of truly terrible monologues, to boot. During one of these, he says, without a lick of irony, “It’s like I was born dead inside, but I didn’t care because I was dead inside.” The atrocious writing isn’t his fault, of course, but the dead-inside delivery is.
“The Old Way” also has the unfortunate distinction of being the first movie Hannah Gutierrez-Reed worked on as lead armorer. Her handling of the on-set firearms was criticized by the cast—including Cage, who walked off set one day when Gutierrez-Reed allegedly fired a gun without warning. Thankfully, that was the worst of it, but Gutierrez-Reed’s second movie as armorer was “Rust.” If you recall, on that set, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed when a live round was accidentally discharged. In early 2022, Gutierrez-Reed was charged with involuntary manslaughter for that death (as was the actor who pulled the trigger, Alec Baldwin). Time will tell what will happen next, but there’s a possibility “The Old Way” will be one of the few movies she ever works on.
Look, it’s January. I get it. Movies need to release basically every week of the calendar year. It’s inevitable that some of them have to release in January, too. It’s either this or “M3GAN.” And right now, that psycho doll is looking pretty damn good.