Written by Patrick Hao
Tim Blake Nelson’s face was made for a Western. Sure, the famed character actor doesn’t have the swaggering stature of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, nor the everyman star charisma of Henry Fonda or James Stewart. But, with his famous hangdog demeanor and Okie drawl, Nelson feels right at home in the plains of the Old West as one of the many characters that gives a movie color – like an Eli Wallach or Ward Bond.
With that said, it is especially wonderful to see Nelson take lead in the wonderful small western, Old Henry, directed by Potsy Ponciroli, sees Nelson as Henry McCarty, a farmer with a hidden past, who stumbles upon a man near death and a satchel full of money. From experience, McCarty knows this could only mean trouble, but due to a sense of righteousness, decides to nurse the man, Curry (Scott Haze), back to good health at his farm that he shares with his teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). Troubles comes a brewing for the McCarty family as a group of bank robbers pretending to be lawmen led by the gleefully sadistic Ketchum (Stephen Dorff).
Ponciroli does not fill his movie with any pretense of importance. Old Henry is not a revisionist Western aiming to reflect on the American mythos nor does it have the grandiosity of the old master. The goal of this movie is to make an economical western akin to the pulp westerns of Joseph H. Lewis and Budd Boetticher of the 1950s. And that is achieved thanks to Ponciroli’s baroque dialogue, steady pace of action, and strong central performances from Nelson and Dorff.
Calling Old Henry, a pulp western is by no means an insult to it. This might be the most fun I have had in a theater all year. Ponciroli clearly has a lot of skills and knows how to make a limited budget go a long way. Like Lewis and Boetticher, he allows the expansive prairie and limited resources to speak to both the peace of isolation and the dangers of the unknown. He uses Nelson’s face to its full extent – Nelson looks like a man who has lived a life. And when the bursts of action do come, it is violent and uncompromising. Old Henry may become lost in the shuffle of releases for 2021, but it already has all the makings of a gem waiting to be discovered on whatever streaming site it is destined to end up on.
Old Henry Trailer
Old Henry is currently available to rent from select VOD platforms.