Tim Blake Nelson is a wonderfully versatile actor who is probably best known for playing original Haybeans with names like Delmar and Buster. These roles are always fun and it’s hard not to love Nelson’s thick, deep drawl and welcoming backwoods veneer. But the repertoire of Okie, 57, is not limited to playing fancy yokels and his new movie “Old Henry” certainly proves it.
Written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli and premiered last month in Venice, âOld Henryâ is a lean, old-fashioned western directed by someone with an obvious affection for the many classics of a bygone era. Ponciroli doesn’t offer much new to the worn-out genre, and it readily embraces some of its most needed tropes. But there’s a unique and appealing minimalism to its storytelling, and there’s a lot to love about how the simplicity is woven into the story itself.
âOld Henryâ is a perfect vehicle for Nelson that falls right into the skin of the main character of the film. Set in 1906, the story takes place in the waning era of the Old West. Henry (with his weathered skin and uncontrollable handlebar mustache) is a man of a dying era, content to live his days raising his petulant teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) on his small farm nestled in Oklahoma Territory. .
After his wife died of tuberculosis 10 years earlier, the overprotective Henry worked hard to teach Wyatt how to make a living off the land. While his son is eager to experience the hustle and bustle of the rapidly changing world, Henry advocates for a simpler and more peaceful life – working the crops, feeding the cattle, and more. seasoned confidence. Henri knows the world. He has a history with it. And it was this story that drove him to settle on such a remote patch of rocky land.
But this simple life is interrupted on a cloudy afternoon when a horse with a bloody saddle wanders through their field. Henry sets out to find the horseman by following a path that leads him to a dry creek bed. There, he finds a gunshot wounded man (Scott Haze) lying next to a satchel full of cash. Knowing that bags full of money often come with violent attachments, Henry’s first thought is to go. But his conscience takes over. He puts the stranger on his horse’s back and takes him to his farm, hiding the bag of money in a secret compartment in the wall of his closet.
And then come those attachments. Three black hats go up to Henry’s farm in search of the mysterious injured man. The soft-spoken frontman introduces himself as Sheriff Sam Ketchum (well played and with great arrogance by Stephen Dorff) and the other two (Richard Speight Jr. and Max Arciniega) as his deputies. Meanwhile, back inside the house, the slowly healing stranger says his name is Curry and insists he’s actually the sheriff and that Ketchum and his men are bandits. . And just like that, the central tension of the film is defined.
Secrets often play a big role in films like these and “Old Henry” certainly has its share. Once Ponciroli has all of their key pieces in place, it becomes clear that everyone has something to hide. From there, it’s a matter of unpacking the many questions. Most urgent – Who is Ketchum? Who is Curry? The two claim to be the law and the two have conflicting stories that don’t quite match up. But the biggest secret is brewing for all to see: who is Henry and what is that old baggage from his past that he worked so hard to bury?
Ponciroli goes over the lightly breaded revelations with Old West elegance, heading for the inevitable explosion of violence. As far as the story goes, everything is pretty easy to grasp except for the one big twist that the movie teases early on (for those who pay close attention) and then unloads with a fun, satisfying fury. Meanwhile, DP John Matysiak’s evocative camera works well in the film’s mostly unique setting, capturing both the rugged and beautiful countryside and the rustic inhabited interiors.
“Old Henry” deals with many themes: father / son relationships, regret, our fascination with legend, the idea of ââyour past which always catches up with you. But it’s Nelson’s performance that is the bread and butter of the film. Precise and thrifty, the character’s veteran actor transmits so much with so little. Not a line of dialogue is lost and every word he speaks seems shaped by the experiences of a hard-lived life. And to Nelson’s credit, he often says it through his dark, weary eyes.
At the start of the film, Henry admits to his son, “I did things that I wish I could take back. Things you don’t have to hear.” On first listen, it’s a line of dialogue almost as common to the Western genre as the Stetsons and the six-shooters. Still, Blake utters those words and we buy them without a second’s hesitation because of his restrained down-to-earth magnetism. This is what makes this fairly familiar story something Western fans won’t want to miss.
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88 Actors: Tim Blake Nelson, Gavin Lewis, Scott Haze, Stephen Dorff, Trace Adkins, Richard Speight Jr., Max Arciniega
Director: Potsy Ponciroli
Note: R, for violence
Length :: 1 hour 39 minutes
Available on demand through most streaming providers