For years, I’ve wanted to start a Western blog. It’s a genre I love and one that is massively unrepresented online. The once dominating force in entertainment is now neglected to the occasional modern Western or mostly low budget affairs. Even then, the amount of people in the age range who would possibly blog, podcast, and so forth don’t overlap all that much with the folks who watch Westerns, and that’s a bummer for me.
I fell in love with the Western around the age of ten. Tombstone came out and I remember being blown away from the incredible imagery, performances, and gunfighting. I followed that up with falling in love with Wyatt Earp, the Kevin Costner film, along with a fascination with the real-life Wyatt Earp himself. This interest went as far as to inspire me to buy my own Western shirts, a cowboy hat, and boots, which I proudly wore to picture day as well during my fifth-grade oral presentation of my hero, Wyatt Earp.
I’d bargain to say I’ve seen most of the mainstream modern Westerns since 1993 along with a few dozen of the lower budget affairs. I’ve attempted to dip back into the Western’s heyday of between the 1940’s-1970’s, but my own lack of patience for the pacing of films from this era has thwarted my attempts. I have a gaping hole of Western knowledge and experience with some of the classics, something I hope one day to change.
I don’t know if I’ll ever launch a Western blog, but I figured I’d share some thoughts and reviews here at MAFK similar to the way I share my Horror Reviews. I’m going to take a different approach with these reviews however, and they will still be spoiler-free. With that being said, the film I want to discuss today is a film I highly recommend you go into as blind as possible. There’s a nice twist that the trailer ruins, the Wikipedia and IMDB all ruin. So, try and avoid researching anything about this film before you watch it.
Last night, I watched Old Henry, a Western from 2021 starring Tim Blake Nelson and Stephen Dorff. To say this movie made an impact on me would be an understatement. It’s been a long time since a movie has stayed with me the way Old Henry has, and it has preoccupied my mind for the better part of the last twenty-four hours.
The film is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography and wide of landscapes make you yearn for the West, which is ironic since the film was shot forty miles outside of Nashville, Tennessee in a little town of Watertown.
Old Henry doesn’t attempt to re-write the Western book. It’s a simple movie that exceed all expectations because of the incredible performances, anchored by Tim Blake Nelson as the lead Henry. His portrayal is just awe-inspiring. I continuously found myself enamored with the screen and just the presence he creates. There is so much sadness, anger, confusion, and desire within him and it all eeks out in every scene. His counterpart is Stephen Dorff, an actor who always seemed to not quite reach his potential. His performance in this film is fantastic and would have been the scene stealer had it not been for the Oscar worthy performance by Tim Blake Nelson.
There is no CGI to distract you. There film uses just four locations for filming and the pacing is intentionally slow. Some movies are slow because the script needs cutting or the film needs editing, but not this film. Every scene serves a purpose and once the intensity begins, a low-grade anxiety creeps into every scene.
It’s a relief to see this movie stick to a traditional Western story, albeit with its own spin. There is no reinventing of the wheel or attempt at modernizing or even glamorizing the lifestyle. It’s hard, dirty, gritty, and depressing. The violence in the film is graphic and per most Westerns, there is a battle between good and evil as well as a battle of what is good and evil. It makes you take a moment and process the idea of redemption and if such a thing even exists.
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the stunning score by Jordan Lehning that has been my soundtrack for the day. The movie’s credits had barely begun when I did a quick Spotify search and added the album. It’s beautiful, yet haunting and the type of score that’ll stick with you for days.
Old Henry is a special film. It’s a film that is flying just beneath the radar and it’s a bit of a shame, because such a great film deserves to be seen. Once the film ended, I went onto Amazon to order a blu-ray copy and found the cover to be appalling. It looks like every other low budget video on demand western cover. Why they didn’t use the much better poster I’ll never know. My only guess is someone in marketing didn’t think enough people would realize it’s a Western.
Old Henry is a must see and in my own personal opinion, a must own. It’s the first movie in YEARS I will watch twice in one week. It checked off all the boxes of everything I love in a movie. Check it out.