Old Henry fits the bill if you are in the mood for a well-executed, good old-fashioned western, with plenty of shoot outs and bad frontier parenting. Tim Blake Nelson, best known as a support character actor (I remember him as Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou), is the capable lead in Old Henry.
Old Henry is shot in a widescreen format to show the aloneness and isolation of Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) and his teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis). They are homesteaders working as farmers and ranchers in 1906 Oklahoma grasslands. The sweeping vistas outdoors are compared to the tight muted spaces in their small frontier cabin, defining their lives nicely. The rustic homestead, the dialogue, the scraggy look of Henry all seem genuine and add to the mood.
When a wounded man named Curry (Scott Haze) shows up with a satchel of money, the doubt and tension begin. Is he a lawman or a criminal? When more people arrive looking for the money, the tension heightens, and the gun fights start. There are lots of hints throughout, but at the end, there is a big reveal.
Old Henry is slow-moving in portions, but the cinematography and the music help you through. The instrumental music is understated and varies from grandiose King of Thrones type symphony music to simple pensive strings. Subliminally, the music is making your emotions rise and fall with the action. My Son, sung by Eddie Montgomery during the final credits, are the only vocals to accent the relationship between Henry and his son Wyatt. Unfortunately, that relationship is the weakest part of the film. The son appears too modern, like he was playing video games off-screen and ran in to play a teenage settler; I couldn’t buy his character. Also, this story would have happened even if Henry had no son. The story would have been just as good without the added father/son story.
The western Old Henry is a fine example of good versus evil in Oklahoma at the turn of the century. The film slowly ramps up to a violent gunfight. The cinematography, music, dialogue, and setting all add to a genuine feeling film. Tim Blake Nelson is excellent as the lead and certainly looks the part.