Pete: “I’m votin’ for yours truly!”
Everett: “Well, I’m votin’ for yours truly, too!”
[they look at Delmar]
Delmar: “Okay. I’m with you fellers.”
The Coen brothers professed a certain glee in putting the highly intelligent Classics major Tim Blake Nelson into the role of the affable dunce, Delmar, for O Brother! Where Art Thou and it was the sort of breakthrough role that could get you typecast for years; it’s certainly the role I most remember him for, at least until now. In Old Henry, Nelson plays a farmer with a backstory who stumbles across an injured man (Scott Haze, Venom, also in Bukowski with Nelson) and a satchel of loot that badman Stephen Dorff (Blade, Zaytoun, and many child acting roles like The Gate) and his rowdies would like very much to recover.
In other words, writer/director Potsy Ponciroli has given us a good, old-fashioned Western, and The Boy and I (and the six other people in the 16-seat theater) liked it!
The story follows a simple path—you could see Clint Eastwood doing this 30 years ago—where a tough, laconic farmer in 1906 New Mexico (?) on a hardscrabble farm has trouble relating to his teen son, who’s champing at the bit to get out into the big city, while Old Henry is there admonishing that things aren’t necessarily that great out there. He’s smart enough at first to not take the money or get involved with the injured man but in that a twist that ensures we have a movie, his wisdom is fleeting and he does, in fact, get involved.
Now, he’s attracted the Bad Men who claim to be sheriffs, and he’s none too sure about the injured man he rescued, who also claims to be a sheriff. Horseplay ensues. Gunplay also. And it’s all cowboys all the time.
Quoth The Boy, “Cowboys are cool.”
Tim Blake Nelson pulls off the hardass role quite believably and actually kinda looks more like those old cowboys did—not that rugged handsomeness of even a just pre-geriatric Clint Eastwood. He looks like he’s had a hard life. He’s narrow shouldered and stringy. He doesn’t move in a cool, stylish way, but in more unpredictable, kinda dopey looking ways that might actually keep someone from being able to draw a bead on you.
Gavin Lewis as the son, Wyatt, is annoying but it’s not his fault. His character is the punk kid, semi-whiny teen—nowhere near Skywalker annoyance levels, mind you—and you know he’s going to come to some understanding of the world that—well, let’s just say it’ll all come to tears, ’cause it kind of has to. Dorff is menacing, Trace Adkins (An American Carol, The Lincoln Lawyer) is stalwart as Old Henry’s brother-in-law, and the cast does a fine job all around.
The cinematography (by John Matysiak) makes wonderful use of the terrain, and makes me weep this wasn’t shot on film. Lots and lots of good shots that fit nicely in those classic Ford/Hawks-type styles, though not nearly as dry looking. (Westerns make me thirsty.)
The music (by Jordan Lehning, who collaborated with Ponciroli on an early project called Super Zeroes) was also very effective, both in when it was used and how effective it was.
I mean, it’s weird to have so little to say about it, I guess, but it’s just a good, fun, old-school Western that doesn’t seem to pack even the meagerest agenda, and just seems to be about making a good, old-school Western. There’s a twist of the sort that normally makes me roll my eyes, but it worked for me here.
The Boy liked it a little less than I did, but we both were very happy to have seen it. Cowboys are cool.