Kavanagh proves adept at handling suspenseful sequences, carefully applying a wistful, melancholy varnish to the violence. His film mourns this country’s inherently bureaucratic foundation: The town’s sheriff (Tim Ahern) valiantly but fruitlessly demands an explanation for a senseless murder in a crowded bar. Dutch brings a still-righteous Patrick along to witness a gruesome nighttime funeral. An intense poker game results in a tragic death. A prolonged murder takes place inches away from a clueless, playing child.
Granted, Never Grow Old tends to straddle the line between “heartfelt” and “gratuitous,” evident in scenes like the one in which a bar filled with people gets casually burnt to a wisp. Another sequence depicts a brutal hanging of an innocent girl. Kavanagh throws in the good ol’ “blood-splattered-on-the-cross” chestnut for good measure.
“…Hirsch has always been a criminally underrated actor and here…carries the emotional weight of the film.”
As evident, the plot isn’t exactly original, with a borderline-funereal tone and pace. Piers McGrail’s beautiful cinematography, coating everything in an autumn amber, makes one wish that more of the film took place during the day, instead of immersed in pitch-blackness, folks lighting each other’s grubby mugs with torches.
If you get past the wonky accents, the performances are decent. Emile Hirsch has always been a criminally underrated actor and here, sporting a thick beard, carries the emotional weight of the film. It’s also good to see the great young Belgian actress Déborah François cross the ocean (she was terrific in the Dardenne brothers’ L’Enfant) and add spark to the deeply-American proceedings with her distinctly European flare. Cusack, after slumping in a string of straight-to-VOD duds, perks up here, pupils glaring evilly through ashen eyeliner, chewing scenery as the remorseless despot. “I’m not gonna lie to you, ma’am,” Dutch tells a woman whom he later turns into a prostitute, “I’m going to kill your husband… I’m gonna blow his head clean off.”
Ivan Kavanagh has an eye for style and a clear gift for building suspense. That said, the film is sadly less than the sum of its frequently-impressive parts. If nothing else, his messy, violent, dark and sad reflection of our society proves that the Western will never grow old.
Never Grow Old (2019) Written and Directed by Ivan Kavanagh. Starring John Cusack, Emile Hirsch, Déborah François, Danny Webb, Paul Reid, Blake Berris.
6 out of 10