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Review of ‘Old Henry,’ a Western with Tim Blake Nelson in a solid performance
‘OLD Henry’ is a western starring Tim Blake Nelson, an actor-director. As an actor, he is best known for the Ethan and Joel Coen films, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” that made him one of the most dependable character actors in Hollywood.
As a director, his best work is “Eye of God”, which is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Othello”, based on a play he himself wrote. He now plays the title role in “Old Henry”, a farmer in Oklahoma in the early 1900s.
His wife died ten years ago and he now lives with his teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). He just wants to live a peaceful life without any intrusion from the outside world, which we know won’t happen.
One day, they see a rider-less horse straying into their farm. It has blood on its saddle and when Henry looks around, he finds its owner, an unconscious man with a bullet wound.
With the man is a gun and a bag full of money. He brings the man home and treats him until he regains consciousness. The man says he is Curry (Scott Haze of “Minari”), a lawman who got the money from a gang of bank robbers he is supposed to apprehend.
Three men soon appear looking for Curry, led by Ketchum (Stephen Dorff), who says he is a sheriff searching for the outlaw Curry and the two men with him are his deputies. He says Henry should surrender Curry to him but Henry says he doesn’t know anything about Curry.
Henry at first doesn’t know who is telling the truth and who to trust. But his decision to help Curry leads to a stand off. Henry has no inkling that it will disrupt his and his son’s lives forever.
Ketchum takes Henry’s brother in law, Al (Tracy Adkins) hostage and Al warns Ketchum: “You have no idea the hell storm you’re about to let loose.”
In the process, Henry has to defend his own farm and his own life and that of his son against the bad guys who hired other men to help them in attacking Henry’s farm. But when Henry retrieves all his guns and shows a talent for gunslinging that surprises even his own son, his true identity is eventually revealed as his hidden past catches up with him.
This is a big surprise as no one knew he is an icon of the old American West who everyone thought is already dead. The movie is done with a no frills treatment and a low-budget indie style.
But the well-written screenplay has the strong elements of lies, deceit, greed and sprinkled with overprotective father and rebellious son melodramatic conflicts that make it all very believable as it combines fiction with history.
The climactic showdown between Henry and the bad guys is a thrilling action sequence with blazing guns and hand-to-hand fist fights. Director Potsy Ponciroli never goes over the top and it’s like the characters are merely reacting to their own primal instincts for survival.
Tim Blake Nelson is a slight man with a wiry frame and a weary-looking face. You’d think he’s not capable of wielding extreme violence, but he’ll surprise you. Given the chance to play a lead title role here, he surely knows how to lay the groundwork for his solid title-role performance meticulously, like a truly skilled actor with complete mastery of his craft.
When he finally explodes and lets loose, he is like an animal in the wilderness. This is aided and abetted by the authentic looking production design that puts a credible stamp on everything. Even the men’s period costumes look like they smell of dirt and grime and pig shit.
The film even has a morbid sense of humor when the body of a dead bad guy is thrown into a pen to feed some hungry pigs. The film is also very fast paced at only one hour and a half, with tension building up nicely. All in all, it’s a simple but very well crafted vintage cowboy yarn.