Directed by: Ivan Kavanagh – Starring: Emile Hirsch, Déborah François, John Cusack, Danny Webb, Tim Ahern, Sam Louwyck
Although they used to be a huge money-maker, Westerns are not the most popular of genres at the moment, and they can be tricky to pull off. Done badly, they become cliché-riddled, and even done well they can generate calls of sexism, since the protagonists and main cast tend to be men.
This American-Irish-French offering from Irish director, Kavanagh, was actually shot in Connemara of all places. However, the setting is very much the old American West. Irishman, Patrick Tate (Hirsch) and his family had moved to a small town with the intention of moving on to California, but they became a settled part of the community, and stayed.
It’s a peaceful spot, albeit one without much in the way of enterprise, since the local preacher has banned drinking, gambling, and whores. That is, until Dutch Albert (Cusack) comes to town. Taking over the local tavern, he quickly makes his presence felt by reinstating all the sinful acts that had previously been disallowed.
Before long, the town is a lawless, feckless state, and Patrick’s undertaker business has never been busier. But a falling out with Dutch finds him forced to defend his own and his family’s lives. If you’re a fan of westerns, you will recognise every single shot that Kavanagh has used here. It’s like Western 101. Even if you’re not a fan, there is a familiarity about it. They’re not trying to reinvent anything here. Cusack is constantly shot from underneath, with the shadow of his hat brim falling across his face, to make him appear more menacing. He is even rocking that cowboy essential, black eyeliner, to ensure that he looks as malevolent as possible.
Meanwhile, François as Patrick’s wife, Audrey, is almost ethereal. This would be fine if the characters were properly developed, but they aren’t. They are written almost as caricatures – which does give them a familiarity, but also means there’s not really anywhere to go for them. Cusack’s bad guy in particular is completely one-dimensional, and he has no shades of light to contrast the dark, making him a rather tedious character after a while.
Hirsch, meanwhile, continues his Hollywood rehabilitation, and while he is gifted with a (slightly) more well-rounded character than Cusack (well, we know he’s an immigrant, so at least he has some sort of backstory) his Irish accent is extremely dodgy. It’s not quite Tom Cruise in Far and Away bad, but it is somewhat grating. Meanwhile, François has little to do except look pretty, until the closing scenes. When she finally does get involved in the action, it is actually one of the best bits of the movie. It’s just a shame it takes 90 minutes to get there.
Indeed, while it’s always great to see Irish movies hitting the big screen, it would also be nice if they included some Irish actors, and didn’t ship in Hollywood talent. After all, part of their funding came from Screen Ireland. The Irish cast here have little or nothing to do. Extremely bleak and dreary, Never Grow Old is not the movie to go to if you want some cheering-up.
Also, the women don’t come out of this well – they are pretty much all either puritans or whores – which will be agitating for some people. Never Grow Old will be enjoyable to fans of the genre, but if westerns aren’t your bag, this isn’t going to change your mind.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: