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TLO Film Review: Old Henry

In the hills of Oklahoma Territory, circa 1906, a scraggly man by the name of Henry lives with his teenage son Wyatt, eking out a life as a quiet farmer. He says very little and tries to avoid confrontation as best he can. But, once they spot an errant horse out in the distance, Henry’s dangerous past begins to come out little by little, leading to a brutally explosive confrontation.

And that’s the problem with Old Henry: you want to say so much about it, but you know that if you say much more, you’ll give away the hornet’s nest twist of the flick. And, man alive, does it make an already good film into an absolutely great one.

Essayed by Tulsan Tim Blake Nelson—quite honestly the finest actor working in westerns these days, if you ask me—the character of Henry is old, dirty and disheveled, spending most of his time working in the fields, barking orders to his kid. But his son Wyatt doesn’t get him and his ways, threatening to leave the farm numerous times. Still, Henry is determined to keep from boiling over.

But, when they spot the lone horse on a hill, Henry rides out to investigate; not too far from the animal, he also finds a loaded gun, a satchel of money, and an unconscious man, suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest. As they try to piece together who he is and what he was doing out there, Ketchum (a stellar Stephen Dorff), a man with a badge, rides up to his farm with his posse, vaguely threatening Henry and his son.

When Henry stands his ground, pieces of his past come to life and he finds himself protecting his son, with guns blazing in some stunning set-pieces of one-take violence, bloody marks that are rightfully earned by Ketchum and his sadistic crew. But, unlike many other films where you’ll cheer on the fighting, here it almost plays as an elegy to the destruction of a legend.

Even more than that, Old Henry feels like the cracked bookend to Oklahoma’s haggard old-man culture—the very essence of a justified Hell that my own father was raised in and belonged to—leaving a phantom pain that, like a lead bullet to the gut, will leave you with so many questions and never enough answers as the credits have long rolled. But maybe that’s the point?

Beautifully written and directed with pure grit by the unknown Potsy Ponciroli, even though the film takes place in the beauty of pre-industrialized Oklahoma—somewhere near Chickasha, actually—sadly, it was filmed in Tennessee, which is nowhere near Chickasha. Thanks for thinking of us, though!

Regardless, I highly recommend this double-barreled western, one of the few remaining true films out there, lost in the muck and mire of mega-budgeted flicks populated by dense superheroes and other heroes of creative failings only meant to fill the pockets of studio-heads. Old Henry does none of that and, yet, manages to outdo them all.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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