January 3, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Potsy Ponciroli
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1906 in the Oklahoma territory of the United States, the Western drama film “Old Henry” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A widower farmer and his teenage son find themselves in a violent standoff in their home, after they take in a mysterious, wounded stranger, who is accused of being a bank robber on the run.
Culture Audience: “Old Henry” will appeal primarily to fans of Westerns that have good acting and suspenseful twists to the story.
At first glance, “Old Henry” seems to be another Western about a bank robbers and gun shootouts. However, the movie has different layers and a few twists that are eventually revealed in this suspenseful and intriguing story. Led by a memorable performance by Tim Blake Nelson, “Old Henry” is also a family drama that tackles issues of father-son relationships and how a family can shape someone’s identity.
“Old Henry” (written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli) takes place over a few days in 1906, in the territory of Oklahoma. (The movie was actually filmed in Waterton, Tennessee.) Henry McCarty (played by Nelson) is a widower who lives on a farm with his son Wyatt McCarty (played by Gavin Lewis), who is about 16 or 17 and is reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps of being a farmer. Henry’s wife/Wyatt’s mother, Marie Hobbs McCarty, died of tuberculosis in 1896, at the age of 35. Marie’s brother Al Hobbs (played by Trace Adkins) regularly visits the farm to help out when he’s needed.
Henry is a stern and strict taskmaster who’s not very talkative, and he doesn’t express deep emotions very easily. However, there are things in his past that haunt him. These memories are shown in flashback scenes that are like pieces in a puzzle that eventually reveal the answer to a mystery. Henry and Wyatt are also grieving over the death of Marie, but they have the type of household where these feelings are not openly discussed.
What Henry does talk about to Wyatt is how he made something of himself after a life of hard knocks. Henry tells his son that he was born in New York. By the time he was 3 years old, Henry and his family had moved to Kansas, then Arizona, and then New Mexico.
“Finally,” Henry says, “I settled on the life of a farmer, which is what I am.” Wyatt says skeptically, “I still can’t believe that’s what you wanted.” Henry replies, “There are worse arrangements.” If Henry wanted to do something else with his life besides being a farmer, he’s not about to tell Wyatt in this conversation.
One day, a mare wanders onto an open field on Henry’s farm. The mare has a bloody saddle and no rider. Henry goes to investigate and finds an armed man nearby with a bullet hole in his chest and a knapsack full of cash. The man is barely alive. Henry doesn’t seem to want to take the cash at first, but he soon changes his mind and takes the knapsack and the man’s gun.
Meanwhile, Henry brings the mystery man back to Henry’s house to give him medical attention. Because Henry doesn’t know anything about this stranger, as a safety precaution, Henry ties the man’s hands and feet to a bed while Henry and Wyatt look after him. Eventually, the man regains consciousness and tells Henry that his name is Curry (played by Scott Haze), and that he’s a lawman who was shot by bank robbers.
Henry is immediately skeptical of the story, but he has no proof that Curry is lying or telling the truth. Not long after Curry is found, three men on horseback arrive at the farm. Their leader introduces himself as a sheriff named Sam Ketchum (played by Stephen Dorff), and the two men with him are named Dugan (played by Richard Speight Jr.) and Stilwell (played by Max Arciniega). The movie’s opening scene shows how far Ketchum and his men are willing to go to get what they want.
Ketchum tells Henry that he and his cronies are looking for a bank robber who got away with a lot of cash. Ketchum’s description of the man fits the description of Curry. However, Henry doesn’t quite trust these three strangers either, so Henry lies and says that he hasn’t see anyone fitting that description. Meanwhile, Curry tells Henry that Ketchum is lying and that the sheriff’s uniform and badge that Ketchum is wearing were actually stolen in the shootout that wounded Curry.
When Ketchum asks to look around the property, Henry gets hostile and says no, so this reaction arouses Ketchum’s suspicions that Henry might be hiding something. What follows is a tension-filled battle where viewers have to guess who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. And because “Old Henry” is a Western, there are inevitable gun shootouts that take up a great deal of the action. Henry and Wyatt also have their trust in each other tested in this life-or-death situation.
“Old Henry” is a great example of a movie that does a lot with a low budget, a relatively small number of people in the cast and only a few locations. Because the movie doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, Henry’s personality is shown through his actions and facial expressions, thanks to the admirable acting talent of Nelson. “Old Henry” is a taut mystery thriller wrapped in the genre of a Western that effectively shows the lure of America’s Old West as a place for new beginnings and wild endings.
Shout! Studios released “Old Henry” in select U.S. cinemas on October 1, 2021, and on digital and VOD on October 8, 2021.