The Old Way (2023)


The title of The Old Way, a western action film by Brett Donowho, carries a double meaning. The film traces the journey of Nicolas Cage’s reformed posse-man, Colton Briggs, as he reverts to his “old way” of gunslinging and extrajudicial killing. At the same time, the film pays homage to the classic westerns made “the old way”: built around a simple and linear revenge plot set against the backdrop of the rugged American old west. It is a tale of a morally gray desperado, a corrupt yet kindhearted sheriff, a deranged villain, and a climactic final shootout — in other words, your run-of-the-mill B-movie western tropes.

The film primarily serves as a platform for Cage to play-act as a mumbling cowboy, simultaneously tamping down his eccentricities and letting them peek through at key moments. On this axis, The Old Way achieves its basic mission of being the Cage western. (The film’s marketing proudly boasts of its status as Cage’s first outing in the genre; Letterboxd notes it as his second after last year’s Butcher Crossing, which I hadn’t even heard of.) As a bonus, Cage has a hilarious mustache in flashbacks.

The movie is never unpleasant during its 95 minutes, which move pretty briskly. You get all the expected scenes — a violent intro, campfire soul-bearing, mid-film shootouts, climactic showdown at a saloon — and all of them are functional if forgettable. The film will bounce right off your brain.

I don’t hate the movie, but I do think it could have eased into “Good” territory with even the bare minimum effort. It’s a bland-looking film with no time for a sense of awe or, really, any emotional reaction to the sparse Montana environment. Any excitement the film generates can be credited to the charismatic cast.

Beyond its revenge story, The Old Way explores a father-daughter relationship between Colton Briggs and his daughter, Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Their bond provides a touching layer to the story amidst the unfolding action. Armstrong and Cage have good chemistry together, so I enjoyed their scenes.

One intriguing idea gently explored in The Old Way, the film’s only slightly subversive element, is the concept that the stoicism stereotypical of old west gunslingers may be a genetically-inherited neurodivergence that could be equated to what we understand as “autism” in the year 2023. Colton sees in Brooke some of his behavior (including a funny scene where she obsessively sorts candy) and tries to teach her why other people think it’s weird that he and she don’t have the same kind of emotional reactions to the world around them. It’s not necessarily the most tasteful concept (one friend I know with autism called the depiction “messy”), but drew me into the characters more than I had expected.

The villain, James McAllister (Noah Le Gros) offers some hammy, scheming fun. Le Gros is doing a Jude Law impression, oozing sleazy charm.

The Old Way offers a familiar yet not-unenjoyable journey into the old west. Nicolas Cage’s portrayal of Colton Briggs anchors the film, injecting it with his signature screen-owning energy. While the movie may lack visual grandeur and the plot is tossed-off, none of it is broken and enough of it works for it to be a total waste of time. Maybe I’m feeling generous, but I enjoyed its old west sentimentalism.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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