Colton Briggs (Nicolas Cage) is the toughest U.S. Marshal in the American west. He’s a madman with a six-shooter whose skill for murder is second to none. Death is nothing to him; in fact, he prefers the company of the deceased and will wax poetic about their lack of selfishness at any given moment. He has no compunction about the wake his violence leaves behind. On one job, bandit Robert McCallister (Boyd Kestner) and his men stage a breakout. Briggs blows off McCallister’s head with no remorse — even though McCallister’s young son is standing close enough to feel his father’s brains and blood hit his shirt.
“Mother always said I didn’t cry as a baby.”
Briggs eventually settles down with Ruth (Kerry Knuppe), a Good Woman, and fathers a daughter, Brooke (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), a precocious young girl with an eye for detail. They run a general store in a nearby town. Briggs’ homestead is warm, full of love and innocence. Not so much as a “damn” is allowed near Brooke’s ears. Although he’s no longer bringing order to the frontier, Briggs keeps everything stable at home. It’s a world away of his past.
Until an adult James McCallister (Noah Le Gros) comes knocking at the door, seeking revenge for his father’s death. James quickly kills Ruth and leave a threatening note on Briggs’ door. Local Marshal Jarret (Nick Searcy) begs Briggs not to arm up and seek payback, but his entreaties are ignored. With Brooke by his side, Briggs seeks the only thing he truly knows — vengeance.
The Old Way is an oddly compelling January release. The first few minutes are a frustratingly cheap looking Western shootout with honky-tonk stock music that gives the film an immediately corny feel. One wonders why Cage, high on a resurgence of critical approval after Pig, would take this role. As it progresses, it’s clear why: The script by Carl W. Lucas gives Briggs plenty of monologues about death and other classic Western themes into which an actor like Cage — willing to star in smaller pictures just for the experience and paycheck — can really sink his teeth. There are a number of golden bits with Cage and Armstrong (2022’s Firestarter) that elevate the rest of the movie.
Unfortunately, that means the rest of the movie is pretty par for the course of VOD Western films. It hits the necessary beats of shootouts and nature cinematography (all of which feels too clean and too high-definition to set a time and place). Le Gros is also bland as McCallister, and none of his crew makes for a particularly memorable lackey except for Clint Howard as a Confederate dope — and when silly old Clint Howard is your most interesting antagonist, your film has a vacuum of charisma.
Cage fans can rest easy knowing The Old Way isn’t a return to the era of his career where even his most interesting films were frustrating and nigh-unwatchable. It isn’t a great entry in the VOD landscape, but Cage makes it interesting enough for a January watch.