There’s basically a whole cottage industry of films in which beloved older actors play people in the twilight of their lives, dealing with the ramifications of their impending death. Bruce Dern did it in Nebraska, Harry Dean Stanton did it in Lucky and John Hurt did it in That Good Night. Now, it’s the turn of Brian Cox – the one who was once Hannibal Lecter, not the space dude – in the decidedly okay Rory’s Way.
Cox plays old school curmudgeon Rory MacNeil, who spends his time whittling stuff, skinny dipping and drinking whiskey in the tranquil island town where he lives in the Outer Hebrides. He’s quite literally the last of a dying breed, as his son Ian (JJ Feild) has moved away from the family homeland – Rory points out MacNeils have lived in the Hebrides for 2,000 years – in order to live with his American wife Emily (Thora Birch) and their son.
In need of a specialist health check-up, Rory travels over to San Francisco to get himself looked over, under the guise of a friendly visit. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for the true reason behind his visit to become clear, but Rory finds himself bonding with his grandson, providing him with a whole new reason to live.
The setup is pretty simple, with Cox’s gravelly old rural fella framed as the antithesis of everything embodied by Ian’s new life. One of the first comments he makes after touching down in California is that “the bloody lights in the city outshine the stars” and he reacts dismissively to Ian’s new job – using his chemistry degree to conjure innovative and unusual recipes for food and cocktails. Rory is a ‘man’s man’ in the most traditional and problematic sense.
Naturally, the movie tears down Rory’s old school values and reshapes him into a man who’s suddenly less excited about his long-standing desire to outlive a despised neighbour back home. Instead, he wants to see his grandson grow and pursue a relationship with academic Claudia (Rosanna Arquette) – a bizarre subplot in which Rory’s Gaelic dialect becomes the focus of a study doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Cox plays the shifting tectonic plates of the character nicely, elevating the material as such a seasoned actor often can.
Story-wise, it’s all very paint by numbers for this sort of movie and the characters around Rory are barely anything more than thumbnail sketches. This is all about Cox’s performance and, thankfully, he rises to the occasion with a gruff Scottish brogue and a delightful dose of grumpy old man.
Dir: Mihal Brezis, Oded Binnun
Scr: Michael McGowan, Michal Lali Kagan, Sarah Bellwood
Cast: Brian Cox, JJ Feild, Thora Birch, Rosanna Arquette
Prd: Arthur Cohn
DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe
Music: Haim Frank Ilfman
Run time: 107 mins
Rory’s Way is in UK cinemas now.