A fistful of wasted dollars is unforgiven here.
There’s a scene in “The Old Way” when an autistic girl (at least we believe she’s on the spectrum) tells her father she doesn’t know how to cry. She didn’t even feel destroyed when her mother got murdered. He responds by telling her she has to figure out how to fit in with society. This takes place in the Old West, so how could they possible know what autism even is? I’m just glad he didn’t drop any slurs against her.
That girl is named Brooke Briggs, and she’s played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who screams less than she did in “Firestarter.” She does a good job adapting to such a character, and she’s far from the offensive and obnoxious behaviors of Maddie Ziegler in “Music.” She’s able to talk like an autistic kid in the old west, but she still has to be involved with such a dumb and routine screenplay that you basically can predict what’s going to happen next.
And her father is named Colton Briggs, and he’s played by Nicolas Cage, who has been doing really well at redeeming himself, coming on the heels of “Pig” and “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” among others. But here, he overacts as an old gunslinger, who started a family to move on from his past.
His wife Ruth (Kerry Knuppe) was the one who changed his life, but she ends up getting murdered by a young outlaw named James McAllister (Noah Le Gros). Colton doesn’t remember him, but James remembers him. Colton murdered James’ father when he was a tyke, and now, he wants revenge. This is when Colton takes his daughter for a ride, and this is when he intents to find the men responsible for his wife’s death. Like we haven’t seen this before.
I think “The Old Way” missed a real opportunity. To talk about autism in the Old West, and see how society never knew the meaning of the word, and why it makes mentally challenged people act the way they do. Make it “Rain Man” meets “Unforgiven,” if you will. As a man with autism, I’m learning to be more flexible, and I’m adapting quite well. I’m not saying this to show off; I’m saying this because this movie isn’t flexible. It takes no advantage on the subject, it doesn’t want to talk about it, and it doesn’t examine the disability closely.
If this girl is autistic, and we can assume she does, then more of her specific dialogue and more of her characteristics in a certain time period would have been more interesting and more complex than writer Carl W. Lucas gives her credit for. At least he’s able to convince Colton that he may be on the spectrum, as well. Like father, like daughter, right? That’s good. Let’s go deeper there.
Instead, Lucas has to write a standard story with corny dialogue and no truth in the villains or even the Marshall (Nick Searcy). They’re all recycled characters who seem borrowed from old westerns. Maybe they’re deleted characters-the ones the filmmakers thought would taint their classics.
In recent memory, “Music” is the worst and most offensive movie about autism I have ever seen. “The Old Way” isn’t as bad, because it doesn’t try as hard. But it is pretty forgettable. We are in January, so maybe it won’t hold up for awhile. Go back to 1988, and see “Rain Man.”
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