Old Henry

Tim Blake Nelson has the true grit as a farmer with a secret.

Probably my favorite performance from Tim Blake Nelson comes from “O’Brother Where Art Thou,” which was a Coen Brothers version of “The Odyssey.” He was excellent in the role of a goofball, who thought one of his fellow escapees was turned into a frog. It’s 21-years-old now, so I suggest you see it.

Nelson also had a fresh small role in another Coen Brothers entry “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in which he was a singing cowboy with a zany twist. It’s another one you should see.

The point is his latest role in “Old Henry,” in which he plays Old Henry, is rather an unexpected role for him. He has more grit than I anticipated, and it allowed me to reflect on my favorite movies with him in them. “Old Henry” is an entertaining western that provides father-son relationships and characters who may or may not be what they say they are.

The time is 1906 in Oklahoma Territory. We meet the farmer Henry and his son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), both of whom meet the badly injured fugitive Curry (Scott Haze). He’s not a fugitive from the law, but from a group of criminals posing as law enforcers (Stephen Dorff plays the leader “Sheriff” Ketchum), who demand a satchel of money from him. And by badly injured, I mean he has a bullet wound, and taking him to the doctor is out of the question at this rate.

The farmer finds the money and Curry’s gun, and hides them. He also tries to go after the men who attacked him, and makes his son stay home to watch the wounded. And to make sure, Curry doesn’t try to escape, Henry ties him up to the bed, and when he breaks free, he ends up tied to a chair. Thats when he warns the father and son about the men after him, and that’s when the criminals say they’re law enforcers, leaving Henry to wonder whether or not Curry is an actual lawman.

There’s also a father-son story in which Wyatt tries to prove to his father he’s more than meets the eye. But as usual, he has to be told to stay home while Henry deals with the bad guys, and when he finds out some secrets about him, the old man tells the boy, “there are things you don’t understand.” And Wyatt has to say: “I’m old enough to make my own decisions, whether you accept them or not.” Nelson knows how to play the strict father, while Lewis is mediocre as the kid. I wish the young actor could have been as vivid as the other.

“Old Henry” was made by writer/director Potsy Ponciroli, who gives it an “Unforgiven” edge. It’s not as profound as that, but it still has its moments of attitude, fights, and dialogue. I’ve already singled out Nelson’s performance, but I also enjoyed the supporting work from Haze and Dorff, when they respectively try to convince the title character they are the good guys. Even Trace Adkins delivers the goods in a supporting role as Henry’s brother.

The movie resonates with the best westerns when it uses gun fights, and it also gives the characters their conflicts. It has the kind of vibe to keep them in familiar territories but in the right sense. You can pretty much guess some of the outcomes, but you’re also prepared for them. And the final battle takes it chances and shoots and scores.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Select Theaters and On Demand

Categories: Western

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