Irish undertaker Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch) and his French wife Audrey (Déborah François) struggle to keep business and their family afloat in an American frontier town. That is until a mysterious and ruthless outlaw named Dutch Albert (John Cusack) comes along and starts wreaking havoc. Previously, the local pastor had forbidden drinking, gambling and prostitution, but Dutch quickly takes the law into his own hands. Patrick struggles between maintaining his ‘friendship’ with the trigger-happy gunslinger and keeping his family safe.
Irish-director Ivan Kavanagh impressed audiences with early features like ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘The Fading Light’, but it’s been five years since his last film, ‘The Canal’. It is appropriate that this was a horror given characteristics of the genre are in ‘Never Grow Old’, primarily in how violent and bloody it becomes but also in its effective build-up of tension.
As Patrick Tate, Emile Hirsch (‘Into the Wild’) certainly has that presence which befits a leading man but his attempt at an Irish accent is distracting. He effectively captures the deliberate naivety and caring nature of his character, but John Cusack is the one who truly rules the screen whenever he is present. One is fascinated to see the ‘Say Anything…’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’ thespian in a role such as this and he firmly establishes the coolness, darkness and growing threat of Dutch.
The movie’s beautiful cinematography is provided by Piers McGrail, another pro at the horror genre with such credits as ‘The Cured’, ‘Let Us Prey’ and Kavanagh’s ‘The Canal’ to his name. Certain scenes and shots in the movie are great but ‘Never Grow Old’ falters when it comes to dialogue. It can be over obvious and lacking in subtlety which has a cringey result. This is particularly evident in the scenes between Patrick and his wife but also comes out in some of Dutch’s lines. It is disappointing because the actors don’t need the words that they’ve already expressed through their performances.
Though flawed, ‘Never Grow Old’ is interesting from the perspective that it’s not your typical western. Moreover, aside from the recent ‘Black ‘47’, we’ve had few attempts at an Irish interpretation of this mainstay of American culture. At that, you couldn’t really call ‘Never Grow Old’ all that original, as you can predict exactly where it’s going, so while its brutality and violence does leave one shaken, it doesn’t have the emotional resonance of other contemporary westerns like ‘Bone Tomahawk’ and 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'. The strength of the movie lies in its first and final act, the latter of which is haunting, which is a testament to Kavanagh’s prowess as a director. One gets the sense that after such a long break, he’s just getting warmed up again. One eagerly awaits what his next subject will be.