Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2019)
Though he may never catch up with titans John Travolta and Bruce Willis, John Cusack stands in the running for the title of Most Likely to Go Direct to Video. For Cusacks’ latest DTV offering, we check out 2019’s western Never Grow Old.
Set in 1849, life used to be peaceful in the frontier town of Garlow. However, when violent outlaw Dutch Albert (Cusack) arrived, he brought debauchery and crime with him.
On the surface, this benefits local undertaker Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch), as all the killings give him non-stop business. However, threats start to mount against his family, a factor that forces him to eventually take a stand.
At the start, I implied Cusack’s descent from actual movie star to direct-to-video hack. While Cusack’s decline startles me, I also wonder what happened to Hirsch.
Unlike Cusack, Hirsch never became particularly famous, and that becomes the surprise. With prominent roles in critically acclaimed dramas like Milk and Into the Wild, the young actor appeared primed for stardom.
And then Speed Racer happened. Maybe it’s unfair to blame that notorious flop for Hirsch’s career stagnation, but it seems tough to avoid this potential interpretation, given how Hirsch struggled to land major roles after 2008.
Whatever caused Hirsch’s less than dynamic post-2008 career, Old seems unlikely to re-ignite his prospects, and not just because it suffers from the low profile that comes with its direct to video status. Hirsch simply doesn’t provide an especially compelling performance here.
Without question, Hirsch gets the most three-dimensional part, as Patrick brings a role that goes through a real journey. While the film accords Hirsch the opportunity to demonstrate this path, he tends toward a pretty glum, one-note turn that does little to add to the role.
On the other hand, Cusack does well as our main antagonist. Cusack now seems eager to play villains, and this may be a good thing, as he seems more invested in these kinds of characters.
Cusack’s baddie in 2017’s Blood Money became one of the few highlights in that otherwise forgettable film, and he manages to bring charisma to Old as well. At times he makes Dutch seem a little too glib and “modern”, but Cusack manages to give the part a sense of life that makes his scenes entertaining.
Unfortunately, Cusack tends to function in a vacuum, as not much else about Old feels especially interesting. In addition to Hirsch, none of the other actors come across as memorable, and the story itself lacks impact.
My synopsis makes Old sound more dramatic and action-packed than it is. Much of the tale revolves around the relationship between Dutch and Patrick, but that side of the narrative never forms into anything with much depth or intrigue.
This leaves with a fairly predictable story in which a stereotypical good man eventually finds his nerve and stands up to evil. Despite a fun turn from Cusack, this becomes a largely inert Western.