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With: Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, Stephen Dorff, Richard Speight Jr., Max Arciniega, Brad Carter
Written by: Potsy Ponciroli
Directed by: Potsy Ponciroli
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 99
Date: 10/01/2021

Old Henry (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gun For

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A well-cast Tim Blake Nelson is at the center of this classically-built Western that uses well-defined spaces to explore themes of violence, risk, and caution, as well as packing a surprising wallop.

It's 1906 and widower Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) works a small farm, tucked away somewhere in the Oklahoma territory, with his teen son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). Occasionally Wyatt's uncle, and Henry's brother-in-law Al (Trace Adkins) stops by to help out. Wyatt yearns for something different, maybe some excitement, but Henry is very strict, and a little paranoid.

When a riderless horse appears with blood smeared on its saddle, Henry investigates and finds a man, shot and near-death, with a satchel full of money nearby. He reluctantly takes both back home, and it's not long before a trio of riders comes looking for the man, called Curry (Scott Haze). Henry must decide who to trust before the shooting starts.

Old Henry opens with Henry's narration, and it's hard not to recall Nelson in as "Buster Scruggs" in the opening segment of Joel and Ethan Coen's anthology Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, narrating with a cheerful bounce and twinkle, and singing songs. Aside from also being a gunfighter, his character here couldn't be more different. He's nervy and paranoid, and "ended up" being a farmer, as if he deserved nothing else. His every thought and move is about controlling and protecting, even though his appearance suggests the opposite. He looks small and gaunt, with greasy, stringy hair and an unbecoming snaggletooth. (Looks can be deceiving.)

Writer/director Potsy Ponciroli does an excellent job of placing Henry and the other characters in this landscape. Almost all the action takes place at the farmhouse, with Henry peering at a grassy hill, waiting for intruders to appear over the crest. The moment Henry realizes that they're going to have company, the camera tracks backward, leaving him small and vulnerable in the open.

Henry's relationship with Wyatt, who is impetuous and adventurous, and his juxtaposition with Curry (handsome and tricky), provide more drama and friction inside the house. Truth be told, most good Westerns of the last century have already broached all these subjects, and Old Henry really doesn't add anything new, but it's so well made that they're worth experiencing again.

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