No matter how much he’s praised, Tim Blake Nelson is still an underrated talent. Whenever there’s a chance to showcase him, Nelson makes the most of it. Old Henry, a rare leading role for him, is an excellent example of that. Not only is it a great vehicle for the talented actor, it gives him an incredibly juicy part to play. Watching him in Old Henry is a pleasure, one that extends to the film on the whole. A revisionist-type western, it manages to have a modern take on a very old genre, while still retaining its classic feel. Especially if you love Nelson or the genre, you’ll be delighted by this one.
Old Henry has a really good gunslinger element to it, but as much as anything, it’s about the psychology of an old rancher. There’s a small mystery to the title character’s past, but astute viewers will figure it out. Even if you guess early on, it doesn’t impact your enjoyment. When you’re watching someone like Tim Blake Nelson in action, how could you not enjoy?
A western mixed with some action elements, the flick starts with a man being hunted, before introducing us to our protagonist. Henry (Nelson) is a widowed farmer, living a quiet life with his unassuming son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). One day, Henry comes across an injured man (Scott Haze), one with a satchel full of money. Suspecting he’s up to no good, he brings the man home, but ties him up. The man claims to be named Curry and is a lawman, one being pursued by a trio of criminals posing as sheriffs. Not sure if Curry is telling the truth, Henry is soon visited by those three men, led by Ketchum (Stephen Dorff). Ketchum claims to be looking for a real nasty fella, hoping that Henry can help. He sends the men off his property, but knows they’ll soon be back.
With a threat looming, Henry is determined to protect the farm, Wyatt, and the injured mystery man Curry. Of course, as Ketchum and company get more and more violent in their attempts to find out the truth, Henry begins to show a new side to himself. Without saying where it goes, suffice it to say that Henry is more than a match for what he’s up against.
Tim Blake Nelson commands the screen here. His lived in performance is truly something to behold. One of the best turns in his long and illustrious career, he makes Henry a bit of a puzzle, but always a compelling one. When we find out his past, it’s a delight, especially because it allows Nelson to shine even more. He truly aces this role. Stephen Dorff is an effective villain, not quite hamming up the screen. Scott Haze and Gavin Lewis are fine, but very much in Nelson’s shadow. Supporting players include Trace Adkins, though there’s no question who the star and selling point is here.
Filmmaker Potsy Ponciroli rightly focuses on Tim Blake Nelson in Old Henry, with strong results because of it. Ponciroli could have paced things a little bit tighter, but especially in the third act, things really come alive. The pivotal action sequence is expertly handled, but again, any scene focusing on Nelson works well. Arguably, the movie should have paid even more attention to him.
Old Henry is a wonderful showcase for Tim Blake Nelson, who has rarely been better. If you’re a fan of his, you definitely should check this one out. The same goes for western lovers, too, though Nelson is really why this is such an aces effort. The film lives and dies on his work, but luckily, he’s more than up to the task.