Director(s): Potsy Ponciroli
Writer(s): Potsy Ponciroli
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Dorff, Gavin Lewis
Synopsis: A farmer takes in an injured man with a satchel of money, which puts his true identity to the test.
Going into this film I truly knew nothing about it. I’m not the biggest fan of the Western genre, but word of mouth – and the inclusion of Tim Blake Nelson – started to get me excited to see this film. I didn’t know exactly what kind of film this was going to be, but from the incredible opener to this movie I knew it was going to be an exciting one.
As Old Henry ended, and the credits started to roll, I knew I had seen the best western film in years. Potsy Ponciroli only has one feature credit under his belt (Super Zeroes), but he made the absolute most out of this movie creating a visual and emotional epic western, one we haven’t seen in some time.
This film works on every level, but it is Tim Blake Nelson who really ties this entire project together and makes it work as well as it does. Blake Nelson – who might be one of the best character actors in Hollywood – turns in a career best performance as Henry. When you make a career out of playing the side character, moving into the spotlight can be a tough transition, however, for Tim Blake Nelson, the transition was seamless. He completely owns the screen as Henry, a man with so much to hide.
Blake Nelson plays Henry with a substantial amount of nuance and always brought a calming presence to the role. You could tell early on that Henry had been through something, you just didn’t know what. He knows how to dress a bullet wound, hold a gun, cover his tracks, and survey in the silence; all things your average farmer in Oklahoma in 1905 might not know.
When you begin to understand who his character really is, everything begins to come together, and in every moment you can see why Henry is the way he is. Whether it be the aggressions of the fight scenes or the still moments with his son Wyatt – played wonderfully by Gavin Lewis – Tim Blake Nelson pulls in a fully well rounded performance. This is a performance that for most would feel like a culmination of a career, but for Tim Blake Nelson, this could be just the start of a new one. One in which he takes the spotlight and truly shows his acting prowess.
Stephen Dorff, who plays the villain Ketchum, also is one of the best villains of the year. He is menacing, reluctant, and determined throughout. The rest of the cast was strong as well, including Tracy Adkins – who is incredibly unrecognizable – and Scott Haze did a wonderful job with what he was given.
On the technical side of things this movie is just as spectacular. Shot completely in Tennessee – which means bonus points from me – the film looks and sounds just as good. The cinematography is gorgeous as it captures the landscape with a truly cinematic touch. The action scenes are given with the amount of gravitas that really pull you into the moments and the pulsing score – one of the years best – is exhilarating.
These actions scenes were done in a perfect way to remain realistic. They were believable, and the incredible makeup crew made some of the best looking gunshot wounds of the year. It wasn’t nuanced enough action to be boring, and it wasn’t in your face enough to be a Tarantino film. The action in this film hit the perfect medium that allowed it to look and feel like real, true action.
This film was truly just spectacular; seeing it on the big screen was exhilarating. This movie is paced, shot, acted, and told as well as almost anything I have seen all year. It is a movie I can have fun with, while still remaining entirely invested in the entire project. A fully well rounded film that should mark the beginning of a magnificent career for Potsy Ponciroli.
Final: Old Henry is one of the best films of the year. Tim Blake Nelson turns in a career best performance in the best western I’ve seen in years. The action was powerful, the cinematography was gorgeous, and there’s a perfect twist that makes it all the better. A must watch.
2021 Film Rankings
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.