Old Henry

  • 30 Oct - 05 Nov, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Potsy Ponciroli’s film Old Henry is a rootin’ tootin’ barrel of wild-west clichés, complete with bank robbers, a scared kid and a dastardly villain who wears a black hat. The programmers could at least have played ball and put some saloon doors at the entrance, sawdust on the floor, maybe a spittoon by each seat.

Tim Blake Nelson grabs a rare and deserved title role as Henry, an ornery old pig farmer who may (slight spoiler) be a stone-cold cowboy killer in flight from a past he’d rather not talk about. Even so, Henry’s currently doing fine. He has a meek teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) and a mess of hogs out the back. “Don’t it ever bother you sometimes that they eat their own?” asks Wyatt, but this doesn’t worry Henry, who surely saw far worse things occur during the bad old life that he may or may not have lived in the past.

One day, while roaming the grasslands of the Oklahoma territories, Henry runs across a wounded man with a satchel of banknotes, hauls him back to the farm and saves his life, just like that. Probably he should have left well alone, though, because now here comes a posse of genuine thugs, led by the villainous, monologuing Ketchum (Stephen Dorff), who claims he’s a sheriff and isn’t anything of the sort. Ketchum says that Henry fights pretty good for a farmer and, come to think of it, doesn’t he know him from some place long ago? The hog farmer’s having none of it. “You got the wrong pig by the ear,” he drawls.

It’s good to see Nelson carry a film on his own and he goes at it with gusto, clomping around the homestead sporting a moustache that resembles a draft excluder and a hat-brim so wide he could shelter old ladies beneath it. He looks as though he’s having a blast and his co-stars do, too – and they all pull together to lay on quite a show.

While we’ll confess that most westerns have us at howdy, Old Henry is a determinedly low-aiming affair. It’s the sort of movie that the trade magazines used to refer to as “oaters”, the equivalent of a studio quota quickie, with a script cobbled together from a hundred other pictures and everyone hamming it up as though they’re on a themed holiday. It’s dopey and corny and as familiar as refried beans, and we can’t think why the organisers waved it into this year’s competition. Old Henry, that varmint, must have put a gun to their heads.

– Compilation