Review: Old Henry is a story that challenges and salutes Western conventions in equal measure
Director: Potsy Ponciroli
Sep 27, 2021
Its violence is macabre and tight. Her father-son stalemate proves not only heartbreaking, but the film’s narrative heart as well. And its final twist is inventive enough to leave the pillars of the gun and the spurs reeling with joy. All this and more old henri the best revisionist western since unforgiven.
Tim Blake Nelson gets rid of the “aww shucks” camp that helped him steal all of the Coen brothers’ scenes Oh brother where are you and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs play the role of titular Henry here. Henry’s gruff handwriting and penchant for farm work revolves around his teenage son Wyatt (a doe in the eyes of Gavin Lewis, from Small fires everywhere and Prince of Peoria). Wyatt is distressed because he’s the only boy in farmland Tennessee whose father hasn’t taught him how to shoot. His aggravated boredom is reversed when Henry finds an injured man (Child of God Scott Haze) with a gun and a satchel full of money.
Henry’s overprotection proves wise, as bandits pretending to be outlaws endanger him and his recklessly inept son. They are led by the talkative Ketchum (Stephen Dorff, building on his career to reignite the character-actor momentum of Real detectives third season). His use of a state-of-the-art long gun with a sniper-like sight and his monologues leading up to violent outbursts make Dorff a fascinating villain. However, he is rivaled by Max Arciniega’s Stilwell, a hard-working and fanatic Mexican stalker whose knife-throwing is as formidable as any gun.
Nelson is a stark contrast to these opponents. He escapes Stilwell’s typically skillful follow-through in a high-grass, intense pursuit streak that measures up to the best of suspense thrillers. Nelson is an even better foil for Dorff, responding to one of the villain’s soliloquies with perfectly dry dialogue like, “You got the wrong pig by the ear.” And when their conflict brings up Henry’s morally ambiguous past breeding, the gripping film tramples the tropes of black and white hats.
A convoluted exposure and a pretty disappointing key shootout (at least compared to the white punch fights that precede it) slightly undercut old henri. It’s more modest than unforgiven Where The assassination of Jesse James… In ambition, scope and above all budget (even if it is better than the latter). And even, old henri nonetheless impresses with a startling realism action, performances more comfortable than the slugs these characters load into bedrooms, and a story that challenges and salutes Western conventions in equal measure.
Most promising of all, however, is how writer-director Potsy Ponciroli pierces this project. Best known for its relatively forgettable rates like Always the king (2016) and Jay and Silent Bob reboot (2019), his approach old henri announces a brilliant new talent.
Author’s Note: 9/ten