Debauchery. Greed. Murder. Welcome to Garlow. The once-peaceful frontier town is now a den of vice after vicious outlaw Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his gang arrived and began gunning down their opposition. Undertaker Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch) must choose between the blood money he makes burying the murderers’ victims and the threats he and his family face in this intense and gritty dark western film.
The characters in Never Grow Old act and react according to their pasts, their backgrounds and what they know is over on the other side of the mountains. Coffinmaker/undertaker/carpenter Patrick Tate came from poor Irish stock, and even among the other US immigrants, he’s considered a savage. He was used to being hungry and working hard to get by back in Ireland. The fact that he, his wife, Audrey (François), and their two children, Ella (Molly McCann: Sweetness in the Belly 2019) and Thomas (newcomer Quinn Topper Marcus), have created their homestead on the actual California Trail tells a lot about where Patrick wished he was headed. Early on in the film, he even pressures his wife to keep moving over the mountains to seek their fortune. This only touches upon his desire for money.
The film begins and ends with Patrick walking up the stairs of the church, his steps unsure, a burnt down building behind him still smoking. He seems awkward and nervous, definitely not your average hero-type. This was a great way to wrap the film up, tying it all together in a messy, muddy bow.
Hirsch is excellent as the mild-mannered Patrick who is inevitably forced to resort to violence, and Francois makes for a particularly spunky heroine. But it’s Cusack who compels every moment he’s onscreen, cluing you in that Dutch is well aware of his villainy, even while seemingly attempting to be polite, and also knows that you can see right through him. Cusack’s dialogue is frequently witty, but his sly, understated performance is even wittier.
There’s nothing in the film that we haven’t seen countless times before. But it’s a pleasure to see the familiar genre handled so expertly.