I was intrigued to find out that John Cusack (Better Off Dead, Chi-Raq) and Emile Hirsch (Lords of Dogtown, Into The Wild) were co-starring in a Western together. I’ve only really seen both actors in films set in the 20th and 21st centuries. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work that well. However, having watched Ivan Kavanagh’s NEVER GROW OLD, I can understand why casting director Emma Gunnery chose the actors for the parts of Dutch Albert and Patrick Tate, respectively.
Cusack stars as outlaw/bounty hunter Christopher “Dutch” Albert, a man with little regard for the sanctity of human life. He arrives at the frontier town of Garlow on the California Trail. He’s looking for Bill Crabtree, a bank robber with a bounty on his head. The first person he meets as he enters Garlow is town-undertaker/carpenter and all around wholesome Irish family man, Patrick Tate. Albert threatens Tate if he doesn’t show him Crabtree’s residence. It is from that point that their association and reluctant friendship begins, as Albert decides to stay on in Garlow.
Before Dutch’s arrival, Garlow was a quiet Christian town with no saloon, no crime, and not much else happening. Patrick mentions to his wife, Audrey (Deborah Francois, L’Enfant), how much fun the town was before it got taken over by what is essentially the 19th-century version of the conservative religious right. He ends up getting more than he bargained for with Dutch. Almost immediately after Dutch moves to Garlow, the saloon is back up and running with prostitutes and criminals in tow. Dead bodies start piling up, which disturbs Patrick and Audrey, but also gives them money since Patrick is the undertaker. When things start to get awful, such as in a teenage girl forced into prostitution is hanged, among other seriously disturbing events, Patrick and Audrey want to move their family on to California as they had originally planned years before.
There are some really beautiful scenes in this film, such as when Preacher Pike (Danny Webb) decides to take manners into his own hands with a can of gasoline and a torch. John Cusack is fun as a cold-blooded killer, which he’s had practice in previously in one of my favorite films, Grosse Pointe Blank. He is clearly having fun with this bad-guy role and that is more than enough reason for me to enjoy it. Emile Hirsch plays a good man in a bad situation very well, and his Irish accent is surprisingly not that terrible?
Overall, NEVER GROW OLD is an adequately entertaining modern western. I would say that it is visually stunning. The costumes, production design, and cinematography are all top notch. However, the story is pretty boilerplate Western territory. If you enjoy Westerns, especially with strong female characters (which Francois’ Audrey definitely is), you should definitely check the film out. I’d say the last thirty minutes of the film are the best and if you find yourself getting bored during the first third, just remember the second and third acts have some really great material. If it really came down to it, though, if I wanted to see something similar and better, I would binge-watch Deadwood, but this is a good amuse bouche before the new movie comes out.