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  Never Grow Old Everyone's Guilty
Year: 2019
Director: Ivan Kavanagh
Stars: Emile Hirsch, John Cusack, Déborah François, Molly McCann, Quinn Topper Marcus, Sam Louwyck, Danny Webb, Tim Ahern, Blake Berris, Nickel Bösenberg, Sean Gormley, Paul Reid, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Manon Capelle, Anne Coesens, Liz McMullen
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch) is an Irishman who emigrated across the Atlantic to the United States, and now, in 1849, he might have found somewhere to settle with his wife Audrey (Déborah François) and their two young children, the small town of Garlow which is run under the orders of the preacher there to have banished drinking, gambling and whoring. Although as a Catholic Tate has had to convert, so he can attend the church and be some way accepted into the community, he would like to think he can fit in here, at least until he can move to California and join the Gold Rush - but one night there is a knock at the door, and three men are awaiting him in the pouring rain...

Westerns in the twenty-first century seemed largely to be the provenance of the independent market, though there were big studio efforts made, it was the smaller outfits keeping the once-enormously popular genre alive. Hence this Irish contribution from director Ivan Kavanagh, who had been trying horror before this, and there was a definite moral theme here that would not be out of place in a chiller, though slotted in just as well to an alternate style. We were watching the protagonist sell his soul, not because he is giving in to his wicked side, but because he cannot see any other alternative: his wrongdoing creeps up on him until he realises belatedly what he is doing.

This was a film that took its time in that respect, perceiving that Patrick could not throw himself in with the lot of the three outlaws immediately, and had to be... seduced is probably the wrong way of putting it, more coaxed because he lacks the moral backbone to stand up to them, and as such turns complicit in allowing the place to go to Hell. Fair enough for him, as he gets a new job that pays a lot better than the farming he was failing miserably at: he becomes the town's undertaker, a lucrative move when the bodies are starting to pile up thanks to the machinations of Dutch Albert, embodied by John Cusack in a later career depiction which for a change he was fully engaged with.

In fact, Dutch's sly taunting and daring the townsfolk to go against him has a wider message. You know that old saying, for evil to prosper it simply takes good men to do nothing? Never Grow Old went further and pointed out it also takes good men (or women) to turn to evil themselves, and that's what made the film curiously upsetting. Yes, we were in revisionist Western territory in a film that would not have been out of place in the nineteen-seventies, but even so, if you were invested in the good triumphing over bad narrative that had endured for centuries as a reassurance for readers, listeners and watchers alike, here was a slap in the face to that. It stated that a lot of the time, evil will win out, either because the good are afraid to counter it, or because so many ordinary folks accept it as the norm.

Therefore Patrick becoming the undertaker - and taking Dutch's money - may be a kind of vengeance on the supposedly pious who grudgingly tolerated him in their fold, but it's too high a price to pay for his soul, and not merely his, but those of his family as well. One of Dutch's henchmen has become fixated on Audrey, and she is imploring Tate to do something about this unwanted attention which it is clearly implied will lead to her rape and even murder if nothing stops it. As the town's women and girls are forced to work in the whorehouse and the preacher goes mad with outrage at how easily his lessons are ignored when he thought he had it all in hand, the claustrophobia of the piece can be suffocating, especially when delivered at such a deliberate pace, but the insidiousness of the ease evil can succeed was well portrayed. So much so that you quickly grow sceptical any of this will end well and look for a sign of hope that may not be present at all. Bleak, but it makes an impression - only Hirsch's dodgy accent and bizarre resemblance to Jack Black goes against the effect.

[Altitude's DVD has a very extensive Behind the Scenes featurette as an extra - it almost lasts as long as the film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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