Henry Poole is Here
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Henry Poole is Here

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There is a lot of forms that bad news comes into our lives. We can be told we are fired or our spouse is leaving us. In the current economic climate many are losing their income, cars and home. While all of this is terrible and will adversely affect your life there is one piece of bad news that is the most devastating; a doctor telling you that you have a terminal disease. We all know that death is inevitable but for most of us we at least hope it is some time in the very distant future. Since this is the ultimate in personal tragedy the theme has been used in literature and film for ages. ‘Henry Poole is Here’ is one of the latest to take on the reaction a man might have after being told this dire news. It might not seem like it but this topic can be rather versatile in how it is treated in films. If the person is shown embracing the freedom of not having to face repercussions the movie will slant towards a comedy. It can also be taken in a more serious tack with a human being coming to grips with their own impending mortality. The film under consideration here uses the later to guide it. It is a deeply spiritual film that is targeted towards the growing Christian demographic. An increasing number of people are become more out spoken with their faith and have embraced their religion as a means to get through these most turbulent of times. This movie shows a man who is forced to consider what lies in wait for us after our death. Many people may have the opinion that such a treatment of a story would be sappy and overly proselytize the story. While there is a very clear Christian message here the movie also holds together as a compelling and realistic drama. No matter what your faith or religious beliefs may be you can get a lot out of this film. This is also the kind of movie that typically does better with the public than critics. There are more than a few technical areas where there could have been some improvements and many people seem to deride a movie if it attempts to make a point based on a certain point of faith. In contrast people who share that faith will be more accepting of it. In any case this is a film that is well worth watching.

This is the first script for writer Albert Torres. A lot of credit has to be given to the man for taking on such a difficult and sensitive subject matter. It takes a gentle hand to craft a story so that it does not degrade into a morbid quagmire. In this story the titular character of Henry Poole, well played by Luke Wilson, is drawn extremely well. He is shown to be a man who never really had much in the way of faith. When he is told that he is dying that is one major blow to his world view. Then something completely unexpected happens. A neighbor states that she sees the image of Jesus Christ on the wall of Henry’s home. This takes the story into a different direction that you might have originally expected. Brining a miracle into the mix is often something that will drag a movie down fast. In this case Torres manages the balancing act amazingly well. It does bring the film out of the venue of a pure drama and mixes in a touch of comedy. The affect on the direction of the plot is something that livens up the proceedings. It also brings in another touchy and highly debated topic of miracles. Many people do believe in them and see then as a direct proof of God. Others would wonder why Jesus would bother to create an image of his faith on a dying man’s wall. In the Bible it is stated that faith is the expectation of things unseen. For many people a little concrete evidence is just what is needed to reinforce that belief. Poole is now stuck between the living the remainder of his life and finding a reason to believe in something afterwards.

Mark Pellington has a long list of directorial credits in both television and films. Among his movie offerings is ‘Arlington Road’, a crisp little thriller. For the small screen he has directed episodes of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’ and ‘Cold Case’. He also has some work in MTV style music videos. It may not seem like a track record conducive for a film of this nature but Pellington made it work out at least for the most part. While he avoids going too heavy handed he does stumble a bit in holding the story together. Part of this may be the fact that he is trying to show all the conflicting feelings and opinions that the protagonist is going through. It has to be difficult to try to provide a consistent and coherent film from such a turbulent mindset for your main character. While it works as a drama, aside from the religious overtones, it could have been closer to reaching its potential. At times Pellington tugs too hard on the heart strings but considering the subject matter it is almost impossible to not be affected by the movie.

Life wasn’t actually going as Henry Poole had planed. When he is told that he has only a short time to live he reacts by pushing away everything in his life. He quits his job and leaves his fiancée. He also manages to escape the influence of his domineering mother. Wanting to make a clean break Henry moves to the suburbs hoping the peace and quite there will allow him a chance to sort out and process his dilemma. The means he has chosen to do this is to drink into oblivion. Once there the direction of his life takes an unexpected twist. His neighbor, Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) sees the face of Jesus Christ on the stucco wall of Henry’s new home. He wants to dismiss it and be by himself but soon the word has spread. It doesn’t take long before the faithful are descending on Henry’s home hoping to get a glimpse of the miracle. More than just being there on his wall it is now purportedly the source of miraculous healings. Henry is in a crisis with his life and all around him are people with an unshakable resolute in their faith. The public involvement starts out slowly. At first Esperanza just wants a local priest, Father Salazar (George Lopez) to be allowed on Henry’s property to examine the stain and pray. Then henry gets to meet his next door neighbor, Dawn (Radha Mitchell), and her daughter, Millie (Morgan Lily). Millie seems to be cured and of course everyone looks to the image as a source of the miracle.

The cast does well here. Wilson is more typically known for wackier roles but here shows he has the talent to pull off something with a little more depth. Mitchell is one of those actresses that have the tendency to pop up in unlikely films. She is one of the reigning queens of Indy cinema and for good reason. She is adaptable, able to fit in to any role. One of the best surprises is the performance of Lopez. While his role here is mostly comic relief he has grown into to a fine actor.

The film is bound to invoke discussion and for this type of film that is one of the intended goals. It is heartfelt and honest in its approach and worth watching.

Posted 12/22/08

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