Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Henry Poole is Here

This is a movie that I saw too late to add to my top ten list. It definitely would have been on it. It's the style of quirky comedy drama that I'm always on the lookout for, and in this case I think it's an effective parable on the risks of faith and hope.

Some, no doubt, will not like the positivity of the movie (but they are probably taking it overly literally), while others might find the consistent undertone of sadness and isolation difficult. The fact that both of these are possible is part of why I love it. They make a brilliant decision of not providing much information at all on the characters (an odd reference on imdb to a backstory that is not at all referred to in the movie makes one wonder if there were some late deleted scenes, but they are not included on the dvd). This minimalist style enhances its parabolic feel. You could almost imagine a Jesus-like teacher telling the story..."There was a man lost in hopeless sadness...." We don't need to know all the reasons for his sadness - we all know plenty enough to know it happens to people.

The acting, the tone, the composition, the pacing - these all work very well for me. Somehow I didn't find the comic moments and the depth of sadness were at all at odds with each other. The only place I felt needed tweaking were the last five minutes. It felt like some of the skillful nuancing was lost. But a wonderful movie - **** and a full mug up from me.


  1. Henry Poole was never released in the UK and just came out on DVD. Because of your review and Roger's very positive review, I paid big money (£13) to get this on the day of release in case it was a good choice for the film seminar this weekend. So I watched it yesterday evening.

    I like quiet indie films as much as anyone and I thought Luke Wilson and the other actors were good choices and that the film had some really good scenes. I thought the theme was handled too simplistically and superficially and that the film was a bit dull but I would have been prepared to forgive that and give the film ***+ if it hadn't been for the ending. The one line about never having been sick came out of nowhere and rendered the film ridiculous to me. So then I was going to give the film a reluctant *** until I saw the deleted scenes. Yes, the UK DVD has over a half hour of deleted scenes. Most of these, including Henry's back-story in Houston, I could live without quite nicely. But then came a scene in which the nurse mixes up the blood labels, thus explaining the ending. The director and writer decided not to have that scene because it took away from the ambiguity of the ending. Well, I'm sorry!! To me, the ending was not ambiguous but ridiculous. Huge mistake, in my book, costing the film at least a half-star all by itself. And then there's a director's cut version of the final backyard scene - I absolutely loved this version; much better than the shorter scene in the film. If they had left these two scenes in the film, I might have given it the same four stars you did. Who makes these stupid decisions anyway??? (I know, it was the writer and director, but I think it was a huge msitake and, given the recption of the film by critics and general audience, obviously they made the wrong decisions somewhere). In Germany, they added four minutes to the film. I don't know which four, but it's interesting that it was done and that Germans received the film better than most.

    So, as is, I can only give this film *** with a mug up of lukewarm coffee. But put in those two scenes and I'll give it at least ***+.

  2. Walter, you have not responded to my comment, so I will take the opportunity to revise it after this weekend's film seminar. Thanks to you, I opened the seminar with Henry Poole (despite the many bad reviews and some reservations on my part). Two people told me it was the perfect choice to open a weekend seminar and almost everyone liked the film (some loved it as much as you did). I was quite surprised to find that I enjoyed it much more the second time around (perhaps the mix of expectations created by your review and the negative reviews I found online were not helpful). I particularly appreciated the nuances of the noverbal acting much more the second time around and knowing the whole story actually improved my viewing of the film. So, while I still think the ending was a mistake, I have decided to give Henry Poole ***+, with a very drinkable mug of coffee held up.

  3. Well, I'm quite glad that it worked out well at your seminar. I understood your initial reactions, particularly about the ending. It does seem to have suffered from some incomplete editing. I'd have to watch it again to see, but I didn't see the "never been sick" line as fact but as a question (though of course the deleted scene you mention messes that up a bit and personally I think it's still better without the blood switch. I saw it as being a intriguing allusion to the "brain cloud" on Joe vs the Volcano). I'm very curious about the director's cut of the final backyard scene - I hope I get a chance to see it one day. My own hesitation about the ending was not so much about the disease (though even with the ambiguity, it could have been shown a little more clearly), but with the romantic part of the ending playing too big of a role. But a lot of this has been avoiding the big themes of the film. What did people at the seminar think about how the main themes were handled?