‘Old Henry’ Review: Can’t Keep Him Down on the Farm

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“Old Henry” makes a strong, honorable go of proving as soon as once more that the foursquare western isn’t lifeless, although in paying homage to its forebears, it inevitably stands of their very long shadows.

While the essential standoff situation is tautly limited in time and place, it’s onerous to think about Budd Boetticher, who made seven fantastically economical westerns with Randolph Scott, burning nearly 40 minutes bringing the opposing sides together. Tim Blake Nelson plays the title half, a farmer who retains his past shrouded from his son (Gavin Lewis). When Henry brings home Curry (Scott Haze), a wounded man he finds with a satchel of money close by, three different males, led by Ketchum (Stephen Dorff), flip up on the farm to gather him.

Ketchum and Curry each say they characterize the regulation, and a quietly efficient scene finds the wily Henry, feeding Curry at night, trying to journey him up with questions. It takes just a few scenes before the performances begin to crackle — Nelson, maybe the actor most suited to westerns, initially comes throughout as self-conscious, to not point out dwarfed by an exceptionally wide-brimmed hat — but a way of lived-in characters does take hold.

The writer-director Potsy Ponciroli generally will get too ripe in giving the dialogue a stylized twang, and the plot burdens itself with iconography it could possibly’t help. (Even the selection of side ratio — uncommon, ultrawide 2.66:1 — suggests a form of overreach.) Ponciroli also cheats a bit with perspective. Still, he’s discovered a lesson better-illustrated in various classics of Howard Hawks and Clint Eastwood: The deliberate pacing pays off in a satisfyingly risky climax.

Old Henry
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters.

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