Tending to his farm, widowed farmer Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) and his son (Gavin Lewis) come across an injured man with a bag full of money. Their quiet life is quickly turned upside down when a group of men arrive looking for the injured man.
When was the last time you watched a film and said to yourself, “this is it”? It’s not very often that films are able to stick the landing of what they set out to accomplish, and then some. More often than not, compromises are made in order to release a finished product at the expense of the films soul. That is very much not the case with Old Henry.
Writer and director Potsy Ponciroli crafted a tale that not only has the soul of a Western, but the heart of an award winning drama. The setting is simple and the world is built upon just enough to maintain a familiarity that every Western has. Ponciroli uses this to his advantage as he and cinematographer John Matysiak use every opportunity they can to capture the raw beauty of the Oklahoma plains. Every shot is a work of art and partnered with Jordan Lehning‘s score creates a wonderful experience of unique familiarity. That’s the best way to describe Old Henry – uniquely familiar. You know what to expect but are given it in a different way that keeps it new.
Similarly to the dynamic between Ponciroli, Matysiak, and Lehning, the film’s cast work within the world that is created and become part of it seamlessly. The obvious standout is Tim Blake Nelson’s title character. He gives a performance that explores the intricacies of a weathered farmer with a troubled past trying to raise his son so he doesn’t turn out how he did. He’s confident, stern, loving, and tired all in the same breath and he is the heart that beats throughout the whole film. After his work in The Ballad of Buster Scrugs, Nelson should consider himself a main-stay in the Western genre. It fits him like it fit John Wayne himself.
While Nelson was a standout, he did not create a shadow on his co-stars. Scott Haze, the near death man Henry and his son rescue, gives a believable performance for anyone tasked with basically coming back from the dead. Similarly Gavin Lewis plays Henry’s son Wyatt, a boy desperately wanting to be a man and grow beyond what the small farm can offer him. The dynamic between he and Nelson is what fuels some of the more emotional parts of the film. Finally, Stephen Dorff’s Ketchum is exactly what you would expect a character like his should be in a film like this. Suave, confident, and mean, Dorff has a knack for this type of character and really makes you wonder “is he right?”.
Old Henry is a standout film that takes what you would expect from a Western and changes them in such a respectful way that it pays homage to its predecessors while carving a name for itself to become a classic. Fueled by beautiful cinematography, score, directing and acting, by the end credits you’ll find yourself wiping away a tear and feel fulfilled.
Signature Entertainment presents Old Henry on Digital Platforms 8th November
Reviewed October 26, 2021 (screener provided by ). Rating: TBC. Running time: 99 min.
PRODUCTION: Shout! Studios Presents A Hideout Pictures Production. Producers: Shannon Houchins & Mike Hagerty. Executive Producers: Alex Siskin, Garson Foos, Bob Emmer, Jordan Fields, Richard Foos, Trevor O’Neil & Tim Blake Nelson. Co-producers: Bob Burris & Chris Conner.
CREW: Director/Writer: Potsy Ponciroli. Editing: Jamie Kirkpatrick. Cinematography: John Matysiak. Music: Jordan Lehning.
CAST: Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Richard Speight Jr., Max Arciniega, Brad Carter, Trace Adkins, and Stephen Dorff.