I have at times struggled to get into alternative history, à la Harry Turtledove. Since history is one of my first loves, I often find it difficult to suspend my disbelief when an author decides to inject time travel into the American Civil War, or to continue that conflict well into the twentieth century. (Harry Turtledove has done both.)
But the 2021 neo-western film Old Henry involves a more subtle reimagining of a key element of Wild West lore. (I won’t tell you, lest I risk a spoiler that will ruin the movie for you. And—trust me on this—you don’t want that.)
Old Henry begins with an ambiguous shootout, and an older man living in Oklahoma in 1906 with his restless, ungrateful teenage son. Then things get really tense, really fast. Old Henry is a mystery as much as a typical western; and fans of both genres will be pleased.
By virtue of the particular storyline, Old Henry doesn’t have any female characters. Nor does it have a leading man studmuffin of the Chris Pratt variety. The star of the film, Tim Blake Nelson, is what Hollywood politely calls a “character actor”. This basically means that he’s a brilliant thespian who is not conventionally handsome enough to be a traditional leading man.
But Nelson is perfect for the lead role in this film. The other supporting actors—Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins, and Steven Dorff—perform admirably as well.
Old Henry is a claustrophobic film that pulls you in. For me, Old Henry recalled Hitchcock films like Rear Window.
The final twist is complex, and not necessarily one that you will see coming. In historical terms, the twist is just large enough to be a mind-bender, but still within the realm of believability. (I.e., there are no time travelers.)
I enjoyed this movie, and I think you will, too. Highly recommended.