The Western genre goes way back to the 1890s, and up until the nineteen seventies, they were considered pretty much the coolest thing ever with names like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Steve McQueen. A few titles were released in the 80s and 90s, but this wasn’t enough to win back the masses. What filmmakers are doing to revive this genre is by going the Neo-Western way, which are movies set in contemporary America and reflecting the Western style. ‘No Country for Old Men,’ ‘The Longest Ride’, and ‘Aint Them Bodies Saints’ are worthy mentions.
‘Old Henry’ is described as a micro western written and directed by a big fan of the genre Potsy Ponciroli best known for the Billy Ray Cyrus sitcom ‘Still the King.’ It is basically down to the basics, a story of good and evil on a tiny piece of land, but it is extremely tough clearly reflecting the life people led back then with no cops, no law as folks lived and died by the gun.
It stars multitalented star Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, and Stephen Dorff. This flick had its world premiere during the 2021 Venice Film Festival on the 7th of September where it received rave reviews, and it’s scheduled to hit cinemas come October 1st.
‘Old Henry’ is set in Oklahoma territory in 1906. In fact, the lead character, Tim Nelson himself, is actually from the town, so basically a perfect fit. He embodies the title character, who is a widower living in a shabby secluded farmhouse, tending to his crops and instilling good values on his son. The farm sits in the middle of nowhere, and his teenage boy Wyatt, a role taken by Gavin Lewis, is tired of the boring farm life. Now Wyatt being a typical adolescent, doesn’t like living here and feels like they are both stuck, and his old man is a bit too, well, old fashioned. But don’t be fooled by Henry’s scrubby looks there is a whole lot of another person hidden behind that rugged expressionless mask of a face.
The feature opens quite violently with a man fleeing from three others in pursuing him. Unfortunately, he’s shot down, and the threesome proceeds to torture him to extract some crucial information. Once the trio is done with the poor soul, they strangle him to death like an ordinary animal with a rope just for the fun of it. Stephen Dorff plays Ketchum, the leader of the evil gang masquerading as a law enforcement officer. However, he is a psychotic sociopath with a condescending smirk, a role the actor absolutely nails.
While Henry is minding his own business, a bloodied, unridden horse shows up at his doorstep. The old-timer goes to investigate and finds a man fatally shot in the chest. He’s tempted to mind his business and leave the injured stranger to his fate, but a bag of cash makes him change his mind, and he takes him in. Now the three musketeers turn up at Henry’s door in pursuit of the said man whom they claim is dangerous. Henry is forced to peel off his mask and let out the fearless, badass gunslinger hiding behind that wide-brimmed cowboy hat to the astonishment of his son and the villains.
Potsy’s adoration for the Western genre is clearly portrayed throughout his direction in this title. The clues gearing up to the narrative’s significant disclosure are planted throughout the film with absolute clarity. The choreography of all the action scenes, albeit the violence, are excellently executed, detailed and dynamic, building up the tension and conflict while delivering the thrills.
The music score crafted by Nashville based multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lehning is full of melancholic strings and notes of calmed perturbation which Potsy uses to keep the pace steady enough while giving adequate room for the various scenes to breathe. Despite being a little bit of a slow burn, it is an exciting spectacle.
The camerawork is absolutely superb, playing with different shots and a selection of angles. Various wide scenes showcase the extreme seclusion of the setting and its vulnerability to trespassers, which enhances the reality aspect. The production design is also on point and exhibits that inhabited rustic feel, which portrays the actual sight during the period the movie is set in.
The casting could not have been done any better as Tim Nelson is a domineering leading man. Being a highly skilled and versatile actor, not to mention a terrific director best known from the ‘Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ by the Coen Brothers. He completely owns the title character in every possible way, a slow-burn guy who, just like veterans in the genre such as Clint Eastwood, is good at taking matters into his own hands. From the outward looks to the mannerisms, the costume, the way he talks all weave in nicely, bringing in a fully baked and admirable character. Audiences start to learn more about who this weird looking man is as the story unfolds, something Tim serves with a charismatic gnarled conviction to the viewers’ surprise.
Stephen Dorff as the villainous Ketchum with a pitch-black heart is excellent, Haze’s character is a little bit of a lukewarm one, truly ambivalent with wavered loyalty, something the actor keeps throughout the movie, country star Trace Adkins gels in nicely into the perfectly cast ensemble and Lewis delivers the ultimate eye-opening moment of a son too quick to patronize his old man without truly knowing who he actually is.
This feel-good western is generally about violence and redemption, relationships between fathers and sons a well-crafted old fashioned but durable piece offering a detailed look into the past times in the infamous Wild West. It brings to the fore the more complicated dark realities behind the icons of the world west. Though it is probably not the go-to genre preferred by many at the moment with all the comic-based flicks and actions coming out lately, it is a gratifying and satisfying watch definitely worth the time.