Old Henry

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Hayes, Trace Adkins, Stephen Dorff, and Gavin Lewis.

Directed By Poncy Ponciroli

Where I Watched It: Showtime

English Audio Description Available?: Showtime never offers AD, and looking at this through video on demand services, this film has no audio description currently.

The Plot:A western of sorts that finds a seemingly run of the mill farmer named Henry (Nelson) take in a wounded stranger (Hayes). However, things may not be all they seem, and Henry may have a particular set of skills. If you get what I’m saying. When a tiny but mighty posse rolls up, they find out very quickly just exactly how “Old” this “Henry” is… with a gun.

What Works: One of these days it would be nice to hear the phrase “Academy Award nominee Tim Blake Nelson”. He is one of those career character actors that is always forgotten about, and just assumed that whatever he’s in will be good, but we’re so busy paying attention to someone else. It took forever for Sam Rockwell to get a nomination, and now he’s a two time Oscar nominee with a win under his belt. The same thing should happen for Nelson.

And if I’m being brutally honest, it should have happened this year. His performance here is far more impressive and rangy than Javier Bardem pretending to be Desi Arnaz or giving Denzel his tenth nomination overall for reading some Shakespeare better than most actors.

Nelson is electric in every scene, allowing viewers to wonder just what good old Henry has up his sleeve. He’s worn down, but somehow still obviously ready for a fight. He maintains a cool calm quality, while balancing it with the notion that it somehow comes from years of experience, and he’s already ten steps ahead of everyone else.

In many ways, it makes the ending more heartbreaking, because Henry is such a tour de force, and while Scott Hayes does some solid work, there really wasn’t anything to suggest he might have more skills or be able to outsmart anyone. He felt entirely like the wrong guy in the wrong situation, and the ending is just dumb luck. Though maybe, dumb luck is the point.

It’s not a full out western like Tombstone or Unforgiven, and I don’t know why I started with those either, but it is in some ways an anti western in the way The Power Of The Dog was, choosing often to meditate, and have long sequences of establishing cinematography with no dialogue, just to create the atmosphere. While Old Henry does have its fair share of action, it is brief, and doesn’t dominate the plot. It’s very much an art house interpretation of a western, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

What Doesn’t Work: Man, I’m so divided on the ending. I don’t know how I feel about it. I tried to look up the historical significance to whether or not this actually happened, and the internet is very “not sure” on how this could have transpired. I think this is one of many possible outcomes, and I know you have no idea what I’m talking about, but you don’t want this ending spoiled. I promise you that.

I mean no disrespect to the actors in the film, because I thought the supporting cast did well, but I wonder if casting actors like Trace Adkins and Stephen Dorff kept voters away. When Tim Blake Nelson, who often thrives in supporting roles, is expected to carry a movie, and also somehow into the Oscar race, perhaps that’s why he was left off the list. He certainly deserved it based on the performance.

The Blind Perspective: I think I mostly understood what was going on, based on the dialogue, and the fact there are so few people in this film, it is easy to match a voice to a character. When a film has less than 10 total cast members, I really don’t need to be reminded who is speaking all the time, and I managed to follow the sounds of everyone’s voices. That being said, this film really does need audio description because there are long sequences with no dialogue, and shootouts where you won’t know who shot who, or who is still alive until later. Audio description would have enchanted my ability to enjoy this film.

Final Thoughts: Honestly, I think I would have enjoyed this more with audio description, because of the reasons I listed above. That, and an ending I’ll be thinking about for far too long leave me to say that the film is just two shakes away from greatness, but even with all those obstacles, I stand in awe of Tim Blake Nelson. Next time he gets a potential shot, can we actually nominate him? He’s overdue.

Final Grade: B+

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