In the Wild Wild West, quick-draw duels were characterized by trigger happy cowboys emptying their gun barrels into the smoky fray of a gun battle.
Then, when the smoke cleared, legendary outlaws such as Jesse James rode out of a little town after a dramatic money grab at, say, the First National Bank.
In the Western “Old Henry”, Tim Blake Nelson’s Henry McCarty takes an entirely different tack…at first.
Henry is a boring old Oklahoma rancher with a hangdog expression and as much life to him as Hon. Rebecca Kadaga’s wig.
His life in the middle of nowhere then detours somewhere he could never have imagined after he brings home a barely living man he found bleeding out in the hills.
The bleeding man is not alone; a satchel alongside the wounded man is filled with enough cash to give Kadaga a lifetime supply of wigs.
“Nope”, Henry says upon seeing the cash, before changing his mind and taking the wounded man and his money back to his ranch.
Henry and his teenage son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), then take in the barely living Curry (Scott Haze), who claims the money wound up in his possession because, uh, as a sheriff, uh, he made away, uh, with the loot stolen by a group of bank robbers led by Ketchum (Stephen Dorff).
Henry looks at this wizard of Uhs incredulously. A man with that many Uhs must be a victim of an unsympathetic movie review, such as this one.
Anyway, soon enough, Ketchum and his two-man crew of bank robbers arrive and its time for Henry to catch a case of the Uhs in explaining that he has not seen Curry.
It turns out that Henry is such an accomplished liar that he doesn’t need any Uhs in order to convince an unconvinced Ketchum that he hasn’t seen Curry.
Nevertheless, Ketchum (it could be pronounced as “catch ‘em”) doffs his hat, as Wyatt and Curry are holed up inside the house, and rides back under the rock he emerged.
But before he does so, he notices Henry looks like a man whose face used to appear below the word “wanted” on every poster in the state.
“Long ago, there was a guy who caused some trouble down Arizona, New Mexico way,” he says to Henry, by way of asking if Henry is the ‘guy’ in question.
Henry, whose unsmilingly ugly face could be used to promote sexual abstinence, is empathic in his denial.
Henry is lying once more, but his motionless facial expression is set in motion by a chilling insincerity. One of his eyes is narrower than the other, almost wide-open shut actually.
He has an old scar which, like Tony Montana in Scarface, he most certainly didn’t get from eating p—-y.
Henry is a study in constant wariness, like he knows the price of his freedom is eternal vigilance.
His son Wyatt is unimpressed, believing his father to be a cardboard character and a loser.
The unresolved tension between father and son, heightened by the latter’s longing to be somewhere else and the former’s hoping that the somewhere else doesn’t catch up with him, adds depth to the film’s dramatic Oomph.
“Where’d you come from?” someone asks Henry. “Everywhere on Earth but this,” is his response and it jolts the viewer into the realization that this guy is rootless.
You know, just like an outlaw.
The old country charm of the dialogue is served chilled by the impersonal surrounding prairie and hills which lend a certain emptiness to the life of Old Henry.
That’s until, spoiler alert; the film is turned on its head by an old legend.