Anchor Bay // 2008 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daniel MacDonald (Retired) // January 20th, 2009
Changing his attitude will take a miracle.
Luke Wilson (Bottle Rocket) expands his range in this dramedy, and acquits himself well.
Hiding a predictable secret (he tells people he "won't be here long"), Henry Poole (Wilson) moves into a dilapidated house in a quiet suburban neighborhood, his only wish to be left alone. His diet consists of frozen dinners and alcohol. Despite the warm welcome he receives from neighbors Esperanza (Adriana Barraza, Babel), Dawn (Radha Mitchell, Feast of Love), and Dawn's mute daughter Millie (Morgan Lily, Welcome to the Jungle Gym), Henry remains gruff, angry, and depressed.
When Esperanza thinks she sees the face of Jesus in a water stain on Henry's wall, she is convinced a miracle has occurred and brings her priest (George Lopez, Balls of Fury) and her elderly friends to Henry's yard to pray -- ignoring his pleas to leave.
As a series of strange coincidences crop up involving the stain, Henry's lack of belief is put to the test, but it'll take more than a handful of "miracles" to win him over.
Henry Poole is Here is a fable, and a brave one. It's a movie about faith, using religious belief as a touchstone to explore belief in something vs. belief in nothing. It can't be easy to get a film made these days that deals with spiritualism as a subject to be explored rather than mocked, when cynicism and nihilism abound at the multiplex, but director Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) has done just that. By grounding it in reality enough to transcend its more fantastic elements, he has crafted a picture that is accessible and easy to like.
There's a lot of heart in Henry Poole, but it manages to sell hopeful without pushing too hard; we don't have to believe in miracles to relate to these characters and their respective situations. Pellington craftily used CGI to subtly make the face of Christ clearer in the stain as the movie progresses, reflecting Henry's journey and drawing us into the mystery, but we're never required to completely buy into the stain's legitimacy. That's not the point -- the stain is merely a catalyst for Henry's gradual self-discovery.
Henry Poole is Here's success (and indeed, what gets it past its unfortunate title) stems from the character of Henry Poole himself: Henry has good reason to be angry and sad, a reason we're privy to about halfway through the movie, and it's going to take more than a plate of fresh-baked cookies for him to see the glass as half-full. Clearly, Henry has put a lot of thought into the dreary existence he builds for himself, and his mindset is a big ship to turn. Kudos to Luke Wilson who embodies understatement in nearly every scene, going through every interaction as a coiled spring of resentment waiting to be set off. His pain is palpable, and feels real.
The rest of the cast equips itself well, although Mitchell occasionally crosses the line into sentimentality, and emotion that feels out of place in this story. Adriana Barraza nearly steals the show from Wilson a few times, playing Esperanza as full of life, generous with love, and with emotions of all sorts close to the surface. I kept expecting George Lopez to turn out to be a wisecracking, wacky priest who turns Henry's life around; instead, his performance as Father Salazar is restrained and believable.
Henry Poole is Here is not a perfect film -- Pellington's music video and commercial background shine through in the one-too-many music montages, and the last 20 minutes or so come across more manipulative than I would've liked, after all the previous well-earned emotional beats -- but it is quite a good one. The photography is gorgeous, well-composed, and appropriate for the scene. The film's rougher elements don't feel compromised at all despite its PG rating, meaning this is one the whole family can watch and enjoy together.
The image quality is well-served by the ample space on this Blu-ray disc: colors are vibrant when appropriate, fine detail is generous, especially in longer shots, and shadow detail is solid in darker scenes. A fine sheen of film grain can be seen occasionally in the blue sky and low-light situations, but this being a modern production, the visuals are blemish free. Pellington's films rely heavily on their visuals, and they look superb on Blu-ray. Audio, in Dolby TrueHD, isn't given much of a workout by this talky film, with surround activity used sparingly for music and the occasional effect, but it is still a pronounced improvement over what's possible on DVD -- the voices have a natural depth and airiness both pleasing and involving.
Special features are copious, starting with two feature-length audio commentaries, one with Pellington and writer Albert Torres, the other with the director and cinematographer Eric Schmidt (Frank's Book). I appreciated how focused these tracks are. In the first, Pellington and Torres recount the script's development, casting, performance, and story, while the second is much more technical, discussing film stock, lens choices and visual conception; both are informative and enjoyable. The 15-minute making-of featurette (in standard definition) is mostly talking heads admiring each other intercut with behind-the-scenes material, but more revelatory are the 30 minutes of deleted scenes showing Poole's backstory, which is only hinted at in the feature itself. BD-Live is indicated in the menu and on the packaging, but no content was available at the time of this review.
I was pleasantly surprised with how nuanced and grounded Henry Poole is Here comes across. It's a small story dealing with big ideas, led by a career-highlight performance from Luke Wilson.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Theatrical Trailer