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Wednesday Western: 'Old Henry' (2021)
Shout! Studios

Wednesday Western: 'Old Henry' (2021)

Tim Blake Nelson shows real Western chops as a simple farmer with a not-so-simple past.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me where they can find the Westerns I include here, so from now on I'll add a section with that information in these articles.

You got the wrong pig by the ear

Old Henry McCarty is a nobody, a human ghost deep in Oklahoma territory.

His face is disfigured, with an eyelid that sags. His wife is dead — tuberculosis. His son considers Henry a nobody, and maybe he is, maybe there’s nothing extraordinary about this old farmer. Maybe he’s fated to a life of burying rocks. Or maybe, underneath his quiet, calm demeanor, something stirs.

The opening scene leads to a voiceover from Henry:

“My people were from New York, where I was born. By the time I was three, we'd made it to Coffeyville, Kansas, then down to Arizona, then New Mexico. I was in Mexico proper for a time. I've tried my hand at many a vocation. Some more marginal than others. Finally, I settled on the life of a farmer. Which is what I am.”

Is that all he is? This is the question we ask ourselves as Henry stumbles across a half-dead, unconscious man and brings him to his home to recuperate; the men who did this to him are on their way.

We expect this nobody to emerge as a hero somehow. In Westerns, this is rarely a clean-cut designation.

Before you know it, our hero is shoving a man’s head in mud till he drowns.

For the majority of my first watch, I had no clue what would happen next, or even what was happening in the moment or why. The detective element leaves you guessing who is the policeman and who is the criminal.

"Old Henry" plays with this confusion.

Where you can find it

If you haven’t seen "Old Henry" already, watch it as soon as possible. I wish I could watch it again for the first time.

Also I recommend using the subtitles, it’s pretty heavy on the mumbling.

Amazon Prime - $2.99 to rent (this is the one I chose)

AppleTV - $3.99 to rent

Fandango - $2.99 to rent

Roku has it for free, but I think there are commercials.

If none of those work, shoot me an email at and I’ll get you sorted.

There’s tractors can do this now in quarter the time

As an Okie, I’m partial to stories set in a fictional version of my state’s history. The genre gives me plenty of options.

While filmed in Watertown, Tennessee, "Old Henry" takes place in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, one year before Oklahoma became the 46th state. More specifically, we're in the wildlands surrounding Chickasha, a two-hour drive from where I live.

In 1906, there were about 7,500 people living in the area.

It was a simpler time, but simple isn't always better. The bareness of everyday servitude left people with no other choice. So, what you often see onscreen is a kind of submission. Get strong or turn sour.

Part of watching a Western is the nagging fear of “how would I have survived back then?”

The longer you watch the movie, the lighter you feel. “I don’t know how I’d survive, but I would.”

Gloomy as this sounds, this thought experiment turns out to be liberating, somehow — a temporary respite from modern life.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike the Unabomber

Potsy Ponciroli, who wrote and directed "Old Henry," is an interesting guy.

His other film work includes: "Jay and Silent Bob Reboot" (2019) and "Ted K: Unabomber" (2021), a fictionalization of Ted Kaczynski's story. His film "The United States of Insanity" (2021) explores the Insane Clown Posse.

Note that both the "Ted K" movie and the ICP movie came out the same year as "Old Henry."

The latter is Ponciroli’s only Western, which is shocking. The storytelling is phenomenal — propulsive, yet delicate. Odd for a Western, it premiered at the Venice Film Festival.

It’s also the first of three Westerns Shout! Studios — the filmmaking branch of longtime quality home entertainment purveyor Shout! Factory — intends to make in partnership with Hideout Pictures.

"Old Henry" has a small cast. No women. Seriously: There’s not a single actress in the movie.

Scott Haze is brilliant as Curry, the man who may or may not be the lawman he claims to be. Stephen Dorff, as the damn-good villain Ketchum, sounds like John Marston, the protagonist of "Red Dead Redemption," a true work of art among video games.

Ponciroli’s expertise in other genres is obvious.

The camera glides through scenes, in harmony with the deceptive pace of the storyline and action. "Old Henry" definitely has a mystery/crime aspect, and at times, feels ready to spill into the horror genre. But new horror — the soundtrack occasionally evokes Disasterpeace's score for "It Follows."

As Andrew Patrick Nelson pointed out, Westerns ultimately belong to the fantasy genre.

The cinematography and set design throughout "Old Henry" is gorgeous, with the modern Western's color palette. Various sections of the film employ different color schemes, shadows, and lenses. One scene has a green glow, another is red, but in the daylight, you get the entire plains and sky without any impurities. Then, an avalanche of blue. A new reality of sharpened colors.

Tim Blake Nelson

While Kevin Costner may be our era's most representative Western hero, there's a case to be made Tim Blake Nelson.

He is a talented actor. And his performance in "Old Henry" will leave you shaking your head as you say, “Well, how about that?” That alone is worth the price of admission.

In interviews, Nelson has described "Old Henry" as a “micro Western," which he defines as "a small, simple tale set in an alternate timeline where an authentic, historical character plays in a fictional world.”

He had learned to shoot for "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," which will appear as a Wednesday Western entry soon enough: "I was working with guns every day for about five months to be able to do the pistol tricks."


The nightmare sequences are beautiful and chilling, intensified by Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Jordan Lehning’s score.

Lehning’s catalog is impressive. Alongside four solo albums, he boasts production, engineering, performance, and orchestral arrangement for musicians including Kacey Musgraves, Kenny Rogers, Caitlin Rose, and Justin Towne Earles.

The whole of his work, not just his soundtracking, is frequently described as cinematic in nature.

There’s a shifting gravity to the compositions beneath the nightmare sequences, which he captures hauntingly with “Fever Dream - Part 1” and “Fever Dream - Part 2.”

The stark ambiguity of the sounds leaves the viewer uncertain about the ultimate message of the dream sequences. This exceeds the usual ambiguity that movies use to deal with dreams, especially nightmares.

These scenes don’t match the brilliance of the dream sequences portrayed in "The Sopranos," but that’s only because no other TV show or film has. But like the feverish realism that colors Tony Soprano’s nightscape, the nightmare scenes of "Old Henry" achieve the fog of a revelation.

Their power comes from their sudden appearance, a magical haze that lowers around us without our expecting it. These hallucinogenic dream sequences elevate the film above Westerns of prior eras, which lacked our technical sophistication and access to profound artistic breakthroughs. Ponciroli made "Old Henry" with the cheat codes for every prior innovation.

Which I don’t mean disparagingly: Plenty of filmmakers have the same access and could never make a movie as wonderful and striking and powerful as "Old Henry."

I love the bold creative choices that Western directors make, that any directors make. And experimentation always produces bundles of failure.

Who cares? We watch Westerns because they have always — even at the height of their popularity — challenged the limits of control.

Blessed are those hearts set on pilgrimage

It’s beyond reasonable to believe in the existence of God: Just look at the world all around you, look up at the skies full of sunlight or the unending dark pebbled with stars and larger than we’re capable of knowing. At the very least, a concept of God can consist of only this feeling, of smallness in the face of endless enormities.

This battle emerges in the first scene of "Old Henry." This also serves as our introduction to Wyatt, Old Henry's son. This interchange takes place under a swarming sky, as Henry and his brother-in-law Al are clobbering rock with shovels and pickaxes. Wyatt is moody, bored, hostile.

Henry’s relationship to Wyatt is the true focus of the movie, and what a lovely thing to capture. Their connection begins with a conversation using Bible verses.

The first reference comes from the “sayings of the wise” section of the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon’s masterpiece of morality. One night, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, “I’ll give you anything you want.” Solomon chose “a wise heart” so that he could discern between good and evil.

When Wyatt insults the homestead, Henry recites Proverbs 24: 3-4. “By wisdom is a house built, and through understanding is it established. Through knowledge are its rooms filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”

Check out the verses immediately before those: “Do not envy evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their minds devise violence, and their lips talk of mischief.”

Wyatt, sour, responds with Psalm 86, a prayer for times of suffering and distress. David’s song begins with pleading:

"Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who puts his trust in you.
You are my God; have pity on me, O Lord,
for to you I cry out all day long.."

When Wyatt asks Henry, “Who are you?” he responds with a familiar line: “I’m who I am.”

Wyatt’s rejoinder: “Aren’t you always preaching about being honest? The truth will set you free?”

From here, Henry’s past begins its quick unravel. But ultimately, his advice to Wyatt is simple: “Keep your head down, you’ll be all right.”

Beyond the fact that keeping your head down is the posture of prayer, this instruction carries a certain foreshadowing worthy of love.

As happens throughout the Psalms, the mood of Psalm 86 changes by the end, with David announcing: “Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.”

As Roy Rogers was wont to say, “Goodbye, good luck, and may the good Lord take a liking to you. See ya next week.”

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Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan

Staff Writer

Kevin Ryan is a staff writer for Blaze News.
@The_Kevin_Ryan →