Never Grow Old [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (2nd May 2019).
The Film

They say that there are a million ways to die and there probably was more than that if you happened to live in the Old West in 1849. The average life span wasn’t more than 47 if you were lucky or careful; women outlived men, but many would die young during childbirth and because of various illnesses. The role of the undertaker was an interesting one and the most common role was the dual occupation of furniture maker and mortician, or in this case, town carpenter. If you lived in a town, then the undertaker would take care of the corpse, but if you lived outside of town, the family would either manufacture or buy a coffin and the body would be exhibited in the house for a day before the burial. Since embalming fluid wouldn’t be discovered till 1867, the body would be buried as soon as possible. So what’s with this history of mortuary science having to do with "Never Grow Old"? It’s simple; the protagonist, Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch) is the town of Garlow’s undertaker. Tate is a man of simple desires; he is a family man, honest and hardworking, and he doesn’t drink. The town of Garlow, we learn, is one of the many small towns that have sprung up on the road to California and according to the hellfire and brimstone preacher Pike (Danny Webb) the town is now free of whoring, drink and gunplay. A nice place to raise a family which is what the Tate’s are doing. Patrick expresses his thoughts about moving to California to his wife Audrey (Déborah François) early on in the film; he thinks that they are missing out on the bigger picture by staying where they are, but Audrey is comfortable where she is and so they stay. Of course, this is only setting up the calm before the storm.

The storm blows in one night, in the pouring rain, in the form of one Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his two odd cohorts, Dumb-Dumb (Sam Louwyck) appropriately named because he cannot speak (his tongue was severed by an apache and he carries it with him) and Sicily (Camille Pistone) who doesn’t speak English, but Italian. These three desperadoes look like death on two legs as they come looking for a local named Bill Crabtree (Paul Ronan) who they have some unsettled business with. Not taking no for an answer, they insist that Tate take them into town to see his wife, Mrs. Crabtree (Anne Coesens). One can easily see that these men are not the type to settle down and be typical citizens; there is an unsettling air of menace emanating from them, especially from the ringleader Dutch. Mr. Albert does all the talking for the trio and it quickly becomes clear that he has long range plans for the town of Garlow.

Similar to a spaghetti western, Albert is a man with a plan and it isn’t one that abides with the fierce preacher Pike’s vision of what Garlow is supposed to be. First matter of business is setting up shop in the town’s lone saloon and hotel. Next is importing some working girls for company and lastly, a few games of chance for those that are interested. And since Albert is a keen killer, business is definitely on the rise ever since the deadly trio made Garlow their home, which is where Tate comes into the tangled knot of things. Morally this is a gray area are because Tate is making more money than ever before and that is a positive thing, right? Sure, people are dying violent deaths but does that mean that Tate is morally responsible for the actions of Dutch Albert? It is an interesting point that writer/director Ivan Kavanagh is making here by using Tate as a sort of measuring stick; can a moral man still be free of sin even if he is an innocent bystander to tragic events? Or is Tate being pushed into making a hasty decision out of fear and greed? Things progress until Tate, the man who won’t buy a revolver based on principals, is slowly pushed to take action against his so called “friend” Butch Albert. The situation reminded me of the work of Sam Peckinpah, a filmmaker that liked to juxtapose similar situations like this in films such as "Straw Dogs" (1971). Ultimately the peace loving man is forced into lowering himself to his enemy’s level and it Is only through bloodshed that the menace is eliminated.

What I thought was interesting here was how Tate’s wife slowly blooms into a fully developed character, from a quiet housewife to finally being a protector of her home and children by killing the intruder that comes to her house with nothing but meanness in mind. Unlike Peckinpah whose female characters were either whores or witnesses, Kavanagh’s Audrey is outspoken and more importantly, she defends herself against the villainy that invades her peaceful home. I also really enjoyed the scene where Dumb-Dumb comes sneaking into the house with a knife drawn while just outside the frame, Audrey and her children innocently gather vegetables for dinner. Tate easily kills the intruder by strangling him from behind with a piece of rope and even cleverly manages to conceal the body in the coffin of a recently executed girl. We see how easily the scale shifts for Tate as he is forced to confront evil face to face in his town. From passive, innocent man to a man that has the eyes of a killer, Tate becomes accountable and takes responsibility for his own actions.

I have never been a huge fan of John Cusack’s previously, but I must say that his acting in this film really held my attention and the way that director Kavanagh portrays him is excellent. He is seen in almost every scene wearing a large hat that shadows his face and he oozes menace. With his polite manners and deadly intentions, Cusack’s Albert is one of the more interesting villains in recent memory and his performance is akin to walking in the woods and suddenly finding yourself eye to eye with a rattle snake. Watch his interaction with Tate as he gently forces him to align himself with the undertaker, greasing his palm with silver dollars. I am not saying that there aren’t some clichés in this film, but Kavanagh does manage to put a new spin on the all too familiar western setting by populating his film with many talented actors and by filming in Ireland, he breathes some fresh air into a genre that could use some new life.

The attention to detail in the film is what really makes the difference. The costuming, the mud clotted main street, the incredible low level lighting when Butch and his boys ride up to Tate’s house; all of these things have a weight and add to the realism that Kavanagh is trying to portray. The cinematography by Piers McGrail is worth mentioning because there are several stunning scenes in the film. The rawness of nature and the elements are on full display here and the scenes with natural lighting are transcendent. Kavanagh sheds some light on the immigration issue as well by making both of his two main characters foreigners and Butch Albert has some interesting lines about being an outsider in American culture. And don’t worry about the title, because no one is going to grow old in this film.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.40:1 HD 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression, as I remarked earlier, there are many interesting shots and the landscape is raw and realistic. I thought that the color scheme was interesting sticking to plenty of earth tones and browns. Flesh tones were good and the low lighting scenes were extremely interesting to see.

Audio

A single English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio surround track is included, the audio track is extremely clear and the center speaker keeps the dialogue balanced. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

"Dire Consequences: The Making of Never Grow Old" featurette (20:22) is an insightful feature that includes interviews with the director and the cast, the producers and set designer. We are given some idea of what went into the making of the film and what the overall look of the film was.

Bonus trailers are included for:

- "The Escape of Prisoner 614" (1:50)
- "Hell or High Water" (1:50)
- "Hostiles" (1:55)
- "Born to Drive" (1:60)

A digital copy of the film is enclosed as well.

Packaging

Comes packaged in standard Blu-ray keep case with a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

I enjoyed this film because it was a variation of the done to death western and tried to inject some new life into an interesting storyline. The direction was very good and the acting was first class. Some people really didn’t like this and so they should stick to the Hollywood produced blockbusters that are predictable and boring.

The Film: B Video: A Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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