DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Dermot Diskin • DES: John Leslie • PRO: Jacqueline Kerrin, Nicolas Steil, Dominic Wright • MUS: Aza Hand, Will Slattery, Gast Waltzing • CAST: Emile Hirsch, John Cusack, Déborah François, Molly McCann
Never Grow Old opens on shots of a burning building in a frontier town, replete with an American flag about to be engulfed in flames. A fairly apt metaphor for current times (or indeed any time), one could certainly argue. However, it becomes something of a blunt instrument when the film doesn’t have quite enough detail to make its thesis specific regarding particular parts of American history or present it’s concerned about. Still, maybe this western is simply suggesting that it’s best not to grow old unless you want to see the Church and State let you down. Not to mention have outlaws attack your family and run riot in your town.
Emile Hirshe plays Patrick Tate, an Irish undertaker who has dreams of settling down with his wife Audrey (Déborah Frances) and children in California. Stopping off in a town along the way, he has set up a moderately successful business and reconsiders whether or not they should go any further: that is, until outlaw Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his gang come calling. They undo the local reverend’s work in turning the town dry by reopening the local saloon. Soon the town is inundated with violence, and Patrick must decide how best to protect his family.
Much of the success of Ivan Kavanagh’s Never Grow Old comes from its performances and cinematography. Pierse McGrail’s camerawork wonderfully sets the scene, with Connemara perfectly taking on the shape of a muddy frontier town on the Californian trail. Cusack, meanwhile, is chilling as the film’s antagonist: the scenes in which he turns up unannounced at Tate’s house in the death of night bring a considerable degree of menace to the proceedings. Despite the small amount of screen time given to female characters, Frances admirably holds her own as Tate’s strong-willed wife, while Manon Capelle is devastating as a young local girl who finds herself in desperate circumstances.
As Irish accents go, Hirsche’s certainly isn’t one of the good ones; until he specified his nationality half an hour in, I assumed he was perhaps German or Dutch (whether or not he was doing a good German or Dutch accent is another question). There are also some lacklustre subplots which don’t work particularly well in the wider story: Patrick’s encounter with an overly earnest family, just passing through town on their way to California and innocently looking for somewhere to stop for a drink ends precisely as predicted, and is rather more transparent in its intentions than it should be.
Moreover, Never Grow Old appears to be somewhat ambivalent about its own protagonist. The film illustrates Patrick’s struggle to provide for his family while trying to avoid becoming an accomplice to Dutch Albert’s nefarious dealings, however it remains unsure as to what level of blame or absolution to apportion to Patrick. It’s difficult to figure out just how embroiled he is meant to be, or conversely how hard it would be for him to remove himself and his family wholesale from the proceedings. As a result the stakes are somewhat blurred and not always entirely convincing.
Your mileage may vary as to how much certain details affect your viewing, but they are certainly far from being a deal-breaker. Kavanagh and his team hit all the right notes for the genre, so if you are in the mood for an entertaining and brooding western you will most likely have a good time.
16 (see IFCO for details)
Never Grow Old is released 23rd August 2019