Old Henry is a 2021 American Western film written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli. It stars Tim Blake Nelson as the titular character, a farmer who must protect his son from outlaws, with Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, and Stephen Dorff in supporting roles. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2021, and was theatrically released in the United States by Shout! Studios on October 1. It was critically acclaimed, with praise to the story, Ponciroli's direction, and Nelson's performance. The National Board of Review selected the film in its annual list of the Top Ten Independent Films of the year.
|Directed by||Potsy Ponciroli|
|Written by||Potsy Ponciroli|
|Edited by||Jamie Kirkpatrick|
|Music by||Jordan Lehning|
|Distributed by||Shout! Studios|
Henry and his son Wyatt live on an average farm. After discovering a lost horse with blood on the saddle, Henry goes to investigate and finds a near-dead man named Curry and a cash loot. He brings Curry back to the farm to save his life. Soon after, three outlaws come to the farm in search of Curry and the loot. Henry does not give up Curry and combats the three riders and their horde. Meanwhile, Wyatt begins to resent his father for not allowing him to help. Henry kills all of the outlaw riders. Curry reveals to Wyatt that his father is outlaw Billy the Kid before shooting Henry; Wyatt shoots and kills Curry in return. Wyatt buries his father and leaves the farm.
In an interview, Tim Blake Nelson said starring in the 2018 Western film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs taught him how to handle a gun, "I was working with guns every day for about five months to be able to do the pistol tricks." On December 15, 2020, Hideout Pictures and Shout! Studios announced a partnership to produce, finance, and distribute three Westerns, including Old Henry from writer and director Potsy Ponciroli. According to Nelson, he was heating up his food when he came across an email that offered him the title role. He told GQ that his initial response was to say, "Well, it happened. You've been offered a character that's described as old."
During pre-production, Nelson spent six months researching how his character would sound and move. He then spent another six months working on the 100-page screenplay with Ponciroli and two months physically preparing his body to handle a gun, ride a horse, and get in shape to look like a farmer. Nelson's role in the film was confirmed on January 12, 2021. On his performance, he says he "wanted for Henry by the end of the movie to be vastly different from the character he was at the beginning of the movie, and for the audience to never be able to name a single moment where the transformation happens."
Nelson feared the public would negatively compare his role as Henry to his performance as Buster Scruggs, characters he finds to be "opposites". He spoke with Ponciroli about the issue and the pair agreed the film would not feature gunspinning; the final product features one spin during the film's finale that serves as a "punctuation". On January 14, 2021, Stephen Dorff, Trace Adkins, Scott Haze, and Gavin Lewis joined the cast. Principal photography for Old Henry took place in Tennessee between January and March 2021.
Old Henry had its world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2021. It was released in around 30 theaters in the United States on October 1, 2021. In New York, Steve Buscemi hosted a Q&A session with Nelson at the Quad Cinema on its opening day. On October 8, the film was released through video on demand. It became a sleeper hit on VOD, staying in the top ten on iTunes for two consecutive months following initial release.
In the United States and Canada, Old Henry grossed $42,068 at the box office. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 94% of 64 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Led by a reliably solid performance from Tim Blake Nelson, Old Henry serves up a supple cut of vintage western rawhide." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 69 out of 100 based on 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film's plot and execution received generally positive reviews. From TheWrap, Steve Pond said he wished parts of the film were "more expansive" but overall described it as a "beautiful elegy" with a finale that feels "just right." Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney described the direction of the film as a "well-crafted exercise in old-fashioned but durable genre tropes" that later "evolves into a satisfying reflection on the more complicated, somber realities behind the icons of the Wild West." In a negative review, The Guardian's Xan Brooks found it to be too familiar to other Westerns and expressed his disbelief on why the film was screened at the Venice Film Festival.
Furthermore, Tim Blake Nelson's performance as the title character received praise. Rooney said Nelson was able to "communicate with pathos both the regret and the steely resolve behind every beady-eyed squint." Variety's Owen Gleiberman wrote that the film was "built as a kind of pedestal for Nelson's performance."
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- Pond, Steve (September 7, 2021). "'Old Henry' Film Review: Tim Blake Nelson Is a Reluctant Hero in Intimate Western Gem". TheWrap. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
- Rooney, David (September 7, 2021). "'Old Henry': Film Review | Venice 2021". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
- Brooks, Xan (September 7, 2021). "Old Henry review – a rootin' tootin' barrel of wild-west cliches". The Guardian. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
- Gleiberman, Owen (September 7, 2021). "'Old Henry' Review: Tim Blake Nelson in His Ultimate Noble-Hick Performance". Variety. Retrieved September 7, 2021.
- D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 2, 2021). "National Board Of Review Names Paul Thomas Anderson & His Licorice Pizza As Best Director & Film". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved December 2, 2021.