[This portion of our review was previously published in 2021 for the original Blu-ray Release]
Homesteader Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) has been living west into the Oklahoma territory as long back as when it was still Indian land. He married, had a son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), and lived in relative peace. Now a widower, he must raise his head-strong son alone. When they take in a wounded stranger (Scott Haze), a man by the name of Ketchum (Stephen Dorff) identifying himself as a lawman and his two deputies arrive on Henry’s land. They claim the man they have with them is an outlaw bank robber, but with a few secrets of his own – Henry knows an outlaw when he sees one. When Ketchum and his hired guns lay siege on the farm, Henry’s dark past will come to violent light.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Westerns aren’t made that often and when they are they’re usually uneventful direct-to-video cast-offs. Westerns were once the most prevalent film genre in theaters for decades made by filmmakers the world over. Big budget or small, literally dozens of Westerns were made every year. After the early 90s one-two punch of Best Picture winners Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, the genre has faded out. Occasionally there’s a new great western that comes along, but they’re relatively few and far between. Even when fans are treated to a new one we get a “modernized-Western” like Let Him Go or a genre hybrid like Serenity or The Mandalorian series on Disney+. Genuine true to form Westerns are fairly rare. Just as rare, is a true Western that’s actually great and Old Henry fits that bill. I’ve watched this film a few times now and I’m kicking my ass every day that I didn’t go see this in the theater when I had a brief shot to do so.
at its core, Old Henry is a siege movie. The good guys are stuck in a single small location with rapidly dwindling supplies surrounded by bandits. They have to make every bullet count – and Tim Blake Nelson’s icy Henry knows how to make them count. The Hero With A History is often a silly trope but writer/director Potsy Ponciroli uses it wisely. We know Henry is a man with a past because he never directly answers his son’s many questions and has a coat of battle scars stitched all over his back. It could have been left at that – Henry is a badass. But Ponciroli goes one level deeper with the character allowing this reveal to not only be a major character beat but also a very exciting revelation. Thankfully the film doesn’t completely lean on this reveal in such a way that’s a one-trick pony. The film would still have been great without it, but when the past is revealed it’s a nice accent to an already tight script.
But an interesting hero isn’t anything without a great villain – and Stephen Dorff once again delivers in that department. Dorff may not be signing onto any comic book movies anytime soon, but that’s okay if he keeps finding meaty roles like this one. Scott Haze holds his own as the wounded man of mystery. Of the supporting cast, Gavin Lewis was another excellent choice as he plays headstrong without becoming obnoxious or irritating. You feel his frustration with his life but then you soon learn why he was raised how and where he was. Trace Adkins drops by long enough to set some character mood and deliver the perfect line for the trailer.
I’ve had Old Henry on my deck to review for a while. Other projects kept coming and pushed it around the queue so this is admittedly long overdue. That said, I loved this movie and as I mentioned I’ve watched it a few times now and I enjoy it more each time I sit down with it. I guess I needed a great new western to dig into. After his time on The Homesman and his hilariously entertaining turn in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as a song and dance cowboy and now this cool as the grave turn, Tim Blake Nelson needs to be doing more westerns. He’s always been a versatile character actor, but damn, this is a suit that fits the actor far better than I’d expected.
Quick additional note for this review, I’ve gone through this movie nearly a dozen times now in the last year. As such, I’ve raised my final score to a full 5/5 from my previous 4.5/5. Whatever little niggles and quibbles I previously had about it just don’t matter anymore. This one is a modern classic in my book.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Old Henry walks onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray release. The 4K version is pressed on a BD-100 disc whereas the 1080p edition is the same BD-50 from the 2021 Blu-ray release. Both discs are housed in a two-disc black case with identical slip cover artwork. Both discs load to the same static image main menu with a simple navigation system on the bottom of the screen.