By Laurie Coker
Old-school, gritty Westerns are challenging to come by, or so it seems, but ‘Old Henry,’ starring Tim Blake Nelson, comes as close to a true cowboy flick as any of late. Writer/director Potsy Ponciroli has created a slow-burn Western filled with twists and turns. The perfect vehicle for Nelson, ‘Old Henry’ brings out all the guns necessary to make it a film for the ages.
Henry lives a quiet life with his son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), where they tend to pigs and their isolated homestead. The closest neighbor is Al (Trace Adkins), Wyatt’s uncle, and visitors are non-existent until one faithful day when Henry finds a wounded man (Scott Haze) and a satchel of cash. His first inclination is to leave them both, but something gets the better of him, and he takes both man and money home. Trouble follows close behind, bringing to light Henry’s special set of skills. A group of robbers, posing as lawmen descend on them, and all hell breaks loose. His boy, utterly disgusted by his dad not letting him learn to shoot, soon learns that there is far more to his father than he assumes.
Ponciroli has a knack for the genre, creating a dark, distressing, and potent rumination on aging, guilt, suppressed secrets, and deliverance. His story is taut and thoroughly engaging – filled with depth and unsuspected twists. He has chosen his cast well, too. Henry, whose wife is dead and son wants to leave, must come to terms with his past when his present world is threatened, and Nelson offers up a perfect portrayal. Known chiefly for supporting roles, Nelson slips effortlessly into the leading role here and mesmerizes. Stephen Dorff plays a loathable, classic Western villain, making you want to shoot him yourself the minute he appears on the screen.
‘Old Henry’ is what a Western should be – harkening up the likes of Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ or Andrew Dominik’s ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.’ It’s tightly written, perfectly paced, and wholly satisfying. Ponciroli paints a particularly well-played picture of a man trying to move on from a dark past. While some are predictable, he manages a few surprises, especially in the final act. I am placing an A+ in the grade book. We need more old-style Westerns.