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HENRY POOLE IS HERE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adrianna Barraza, George Lopez, Rachel Seiferth, Cheryl Hines
Director: Mark Pellington
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2009

“It’s getting harder, isn’t it?”

“What’s that?”

“To pretend this isn’t happening.”

Film ***1/2

I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for a movie with spiritual themes that also happened to have true cinematic production value, as opposed to what is normally served up in the Christian movie market. Henry Poole is Here tells a complex story about how the power of belief can lead to something extraordinary. Religious belief isn’t the key concern here, but rather belief in general.

The film is quite a big change of pace for director Mark Pellington. You wouldn’t exactly expect an uplifting film of this type from the man who directed Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies. Nevertheless, Pellington has made one of the best films to date dealing with these types of themes.

To say that Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) has experienced better days would qualify as the understatement of the decade. He’s just bought a house in his old childhood neighborhood with one clear goal in mind; to simply die alone. Henry has just been told that he doesn’t have long to live, so he stocks up on all the booze he can get his hands on and plans to die in peace.

However, he discovers that peace is going to be hard to acquire. He gets a knock at the door from his neighbor, Esperanza (Adrianna Barraza), who claims to have seen the face of Jesus Christ in a stain on his stucco wall. Of course, Henry isn’t about to believe any of this for a single second.

A few days later, Henry notices that a drop of blood has made its way onto a window located near the stucco stain. Could it be just a coincidence or is something truly miraculous actually happening. Whichever the case may be, Henry isn’t all affected by it as he tries desperately to wash away both the stucco stain and blood drop, with unsuccessful results.

And word spreads around the neighborhood, courtesy of Esperanza, of the possible miracle in Henry’s backyard. Not only is a priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez), alerted to the matter but soon nearly the entire neighborhood is lining up to witness what exactly has found its way into Henry’s backyard.

Though Henry couldn’t be more displeased with his current situation, it does result in the sparking of a connection between him and Dawn (Radha Mitchell), his next-door neighbor. She’s a single mother with a young daughter who hasn’t spoken in over a year. Unexpectedly, Henry’s presence has a positive effect on them.

Regarding the presence on Henry’s wall, I shall not spoil any details. All I can say is that I seriously think this film is a must see, whether you’re a believer, agnostic or atheist. It presents an open minded approach to the idea of belief and, thoughtfully, doesn’t narrow its approach to any single group of people.

Luke Wilson has enjoyed a career of mainly comedic roles, with some serious bits every now and then. But in Henry Poole is Here, Wilson delivers his absolute best screen performance to date. It’s a monster revelation of a performance, and Wilson sells us on the state of his character without having to say much.

Another strength Mark Pellington brings to this film is the music on the soundtrack. A veteran director of music videos, there’s no denying Pellington’s unique ear for the right song at the right moment in a film. There are quite a few scenes which are dialogue free and use music to deliver a strong effect, the best example of which is a scene where Henry revisits a hangout spot from his childhood following a crucial point in the film.

The best way to describe Henry Poole is Here is a little miracle of a film. It’s not everyday that we get a movie that deals open and honestly with spiritual themes. It serves as a firm reminder that belief in anything can bring forth so much positive things, not to mention happiness.

Video ***1/2

The anamorphic picture on this Anchor Bay release is quite striking and beautifully rendered. Though a full screen version is also included, you should know by now which version is the best one to go with. Image quality is crisp and clean throughout, with only several hints of compression artifacts. This was likely a result of cramming the two different ratios on one disc.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix delivers quite a bit more than one might expect from what is essentially a dialogue driven piece. The lively music on the soundtrack really stands out, taking advantage of multiple channels. Dialogue delivery is tremendously clear, and the smallest hint of background sound seems to find its way into the presentation on more than one occasion.

Features **1/2

Included on this release is a commentary with director Mark Pellington and writer Albert Torres, as well as a featurette titled “The Making of Henry Poole Is Here”, a music video for the song “All Roads Lead Home” by Golden State as well as a second music video, directed by Pellington, for “Henry Poole Is Here” from MySpace.com Theme Song Contest winner Ron Irizarry. Rounding out the extras is a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

Henry Poole Is Here is unquestionably a film that I can honestly recommend to just about anyone. If you are in search of just a simple, uplifting story or have been desperately searching for a film to tackle this kind of subject matter, you can not lose with this one.

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