When hearing the word “Western” one likely thinks of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Those glory days of the genre when films like The Searchers or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly graced the screen. There was a swagger and a machismo that only a western could deliver. It’s that same ideology of “macho” that Eastwood has sought to tear down with his later films. But those were different times. The 1950’s and 60’s. Todays audiences struggle to connect with stories of train robbers and horseback riding heroes. Old Henry is a wester that hopes to change the trend. To breath new life into a genre on the cusp of death. It’s a thrilling story and a magnificent achievement.
Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) is a simple man. He lives a modest life as a farmer with his teenaged son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). But when Henry finds an injured man named Curry (Scott Haze) and a satchel of cash, his simple life is turned upside down. Soon, violent outlaws are on his doorstep and threatening the lives of Henry and his son. What the outlaws don’t know, what nobody seems to know, is that Henry has a violent past, as well. And he won’t make for an easy victim.
The action plays out from there as a siege against Henry’s house. What would you do to protect your home? How far would you go to keep your family safe? These are the questions presented to Henry, and even to us as the viewers. Old Henry explores themes of manhood, the necessity of violence and the inevitability of our past mistakes catching up to us. Karma perhaps. It resonated with me long after the film had ended.
The stand out performance of the film is Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). He’s always fantastic, yet rarely gets the chance to shine in a leading role. He’s dabbled in the western genre before, playing the titular role in the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. He has a voice and a steely eyed glare that lend themselves perfectly to a western. As Henry, he leans full force into the character. A man with secrets. A man with a violent history. It’s the perfect recipe for a mysterious hero. Stephen Dorff (Blade) plays Ketchum. A dangerous man and the leader of the outlaw crew. Country music fans will no doubt recognize Trace Adkins. If not his face, then certainly his distinct deep, bellowing voice. For a singer with no major acting roles under his belt, Adkins does a pretty great job as Al, brother to Henry’s late wife.
Writer/Director Potsy Ponciroli clearly has a love for the genre and a knack for storytelling. He doesn’t have a large number of credits to his name (not as a writer or director, anyway), but he proves his abilities as a filmmaker with this taught and tense tale. Old Henry is a well crafted story of suspense. A love letter to the classic western with a new a twist. A breath of fresh air into a genre that had largely gone dusty and dry. 8.5/10