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Henry Poole is Here (2008)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/20/2009

All Ratings out of
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/26/2009

Back when Dennis Miller was still funny, he had a bit about how every movie, even classics, had a fatal flaw. He stated that for The Wizard of Oz, it was the moment at the end where Dorothy learns that she could have gone home at any time by simply clicking her heels together. This joke immediately popped into my head during the climax of Henry Poole is Here. The movie doesn't have a "groaner" ending, where a character slaps themselves in the forehead ("I could have had a V-8" style), but it does have a conclusion which nearly negates everything which has come before. This is unfortunate, because it spoils a perfectly pleasant movie.

Henry Poole is Here opens with the titular character (played by Luke Wilson) arriving in a suburban neighborhood in California. (His car has a Texas license plate.) He buys a house through a real estate agent (Cheryl Hines) without haggling on the price, and he also declines any repairs on the house. Henry then moves in a miniscule amount of furniture, and buys a lot of liquor. He notices that despite his protests, the house has been re-stuccoed. He catches his neighbor, Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), staring at the side of his house. When he questions her, she claims that she sees the face of Christ in a water-stain on the house. Henry, a very dour man, shoos her away, but Esperanza returns with her priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez), who inspects the stain. Henry continues to insist that he simply wants to be left alone. He then meets his other neighbor, a little girl who doesn't speak (Morgan Lily), and her mother, Dawn (Radha Mitchell). Again, they are nice to him, but he dismisses them. As the story progresses, we see more and more people coming to see the stain, and others who attempt to befriend Henry. During this time, we learn about his past and understand why this man, who is surrounded by so much joy and mystery, who want to shut out the world.

To be honest, I'd seen a trailer for Henry Poole is Here and the movie didn't look very interesting (and that bland title wasn't helping). But, then I noticed that it was directed by Mark Pellington, and this piqued my curiosity. Pellington is a filmmaker who has had an unusual career. He first gained attention for directing the award-winning video for "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam. He then made the criminally underrated thriller Arlington Road and the flawed, but interesting The Mothman Prophecies. I hadn't seen his name on anything recently and had actually wondered what had happened to him. Through the liner notes and audio commentary on the DVD, we learn that his wife died and that had a bout with alcoholism. Now, he's back with a film which is a little less dark than his last few outings.

I'm sure that Henry Poole is Here was difficult to market (not only because of the awkward title. The movie was originally called "Stain", but the producers felt that this didn't tell enough about the movie!) Upon hearing about the movie, one could easily assume that this is a "religious" movie, and that could certainly turn some viewers off. While religion is part of the story, the real focus on the film is on Henry and his journey. At the outset, we know nothing about the man, save for the fact that he drinks a lot and he shuns the advances of attractive women. As the story progresses, we learn more about Henry, his past, and his present situation. We gather this information as he opens up to his new neighbors. The movie is filled with interesting characters, such as Henry's young neighbor, who is never without her tape recorder, and excellent performances all around.

The movie's Achilles' Heel is the ending, where everything falls apart. To call it a twist ending would be a misnomer, but the audience is led down one path, and then, right at the conclusion, we are told that itís a lie. Instead of being shocking or uplifting, itís infuriating, and in all honesty, it smacks of bad writing. The deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray Disc only (!?) give us more information about this plot development and reveal that it was actually foreshadowed in an earlier cut of the film.

Henry Poole is Here started out as one of the better small, character-driven dramas which Iíve seen of late. The characters are interesting, and the movie wraps us up in the mystery of what motivates Henry. Despite the alarmingly bad ending, the movie still has its moments and is worth a rental.

Henry Poole is Here is actually over there on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame version of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, as the film was shot in a very naturalistic manner, but the image is slightly dark at times. I did not some haloing around the actors. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and there are some well-placed surround sound effects as well. The in-film music sounds fine. Being a dialogue-driven dramedy, there arenít many opportunities for subwoofer effects.

The Henry Poole is Here DVD contains a small assortment of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Mark Pellington and Writer Albert Torres. This is a good commentary, as the two give a lot of in-depth information about the making of the film. They discuss the story's journey from page to screen and Pellington gives some insight into his thought process when making a film. They also talk about the actors and the locations. "The Making of Henry Poole is Here" (16 minutes) contains comments from the cast and filmmakers as they discuss the actors and characters, profile Pellington, the locations, and the story. The DVD contains two MUSIC VIDEOS; "All Roads Lead Home" by James Grundler and "Henry Poole is Here" by Ron Irizarry. The extras are rounded out by the TRAILER for the film.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has also brought Henry Poole is Here to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The bulk of the film takes place outside in the bright sunshine (in contrast to the dark material) and these scenes look as if we could step into them. The colors look great and the image shows a nice amount of depth and detail. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good (note the scene where Patience walks down the street and we can still hear her moving off to the right) and they show a nice amount of separation. The surround sound effects are good during crowd scenes and the many musical montages in the film sound fine.

The Henry Poole is Here Blu-ray Disc contains the same extras as the DVD except for the "Henry Poole is Here" MUSIC VIDEO. However, ther are two bonuses which aren't on the DVD. The BD has an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Mark Pellington and Director of Photography Eric Schmidt. The Disc contains 12 DELETED SCENES which run about 31 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary by Pellington and Torres. Three of these are flashbacks from Henry's life, and contain some interesting cameos. There's also a scene which gives more credence to the odd ending, but it would have given it away as well. We also see a deleted subplot where Dawn was training for a marathon. It's interesting that this much material was cut from the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long