Old Henry, 2021.
Directed by Potsy Ponciroli.
Starring Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Dorff, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, Richard Speight Jr., Max Arciniega, and Brad Carter.
A widowed farmer and his son take in a mysterious, wounded stranger along with a bag full of cash. But no good deed goes unpunished in the old west.
Good Westerns are hard to come by these days. Especially the hard-hitting, uncompromising kind, that leaves you shaken and stirred. So, I was completely caught off guard by the time I concluded watching Old Henry.
This here yarn is about a fella named Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) a widowed farmer and his estranged son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), living out their days in a small, isolated patch of fertile land from which they scratch out a meager living. Things however, take an unexpected turn when a grievously injured stranger named Curry (Scott Haze) stumbles into their midst with a cash loot. Henry nurses the man back to health but is suspicious of Curry and the story he conjures. Soon enough a posse of unsavory characters headed by their vicious ringleader Ketchum (Stephen Dorff) turns up on their doorstep and all proverbial hell break loose.
Tim Blake Nelson is without a doubt one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. Bursting into the limelight with his scene stealing turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000, the gifted performer has since then turned in memorable performances in both art-house films as well as big-budget affairs. 2018 saw Nelson playing the eponymous Buster Scruggs, the happy-go-lucky cowboy, of the Coen Brother’s anthology film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Of the six vignettes featured in the movie, the clear highlight was that of Nelson’s segment and the infectiously comedic character he brought to life. It was in this context that Nelson was approached by Hideout Pictures and Shout! Studios to play the lead in Potsy Ponciroli’s Old Henry. Revisionist Westerns which became popular in the 60s made a major comeback three decades later with Kevin Costner’s sprawling frontier epic Dances with Wolves and Clint Eastwood’s blood-soaked revenge drama Unforgiven. Each subsequent decade hence, has seen their fair share of the like, dealing with similar themes and characters. Old Henry is this year’s submission to that category.
Cut from the same cloth as Unforgiven, Old Henry comes off as a less glamorous version of the former, but that never lessens its overall impact, no sir. Instead, director Potsy Ponciroli doubles down, expertly utilizing his shoe-string budget to create a stunningly minimalist Western that delivers the proverbial goods. At the center of this captivating drama is Tim Blake Nelson, and his performance can best be described as the antithesis of what we saw in Ballad of Buster Scruggs. He is a tough-as-nails mofo you don’t want to mess around with. Even before the ‘holy shit’ twist is revealed, one can tell that Henry is a man haunted by a dark past, bearing a heart heavy with regret. The titular character’s complex, conflicting emotions are brought to life effortlessly by Nelson, who imbues Henry’s everyman persona with a sense of darkness and mystery. Captivating stuff indeed. Although thinly written Stephen Dorff’s Ketchum functions as a suitable nemesis for the film’s protagonist. Dorff is certainly having a ball here, chewing the scenery in glorious fashion in between smirks. Scott Haze too is an engrossing watch as the two-timing stranger Curry and Gavin Lewis is a delight as Henry’s alienated son Wyatt. DOP John Matysiak does some stellar work with the camera, capturing the rugged monochromatic expanses of the old west and the intricate character work exquisitely.
Anchored by a powerhouse performance courtesy of Tim Blake Nelson, Old Henry is a stripped-down, gut-wrenching, no holds barred Western that combines engaging storytelling with gritty action to deliver an unforgettable, emotionally raw drama unlike no other.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Hasitha Fernando is a part-time medical practitioner and full-time cinephile. Follow him on Twitter via @DoctorCinephile for regular updates on the world of entertainment.