All Henry Poole wants to do is to be left alone. In most neighborhoods, this would not be a problem, but, in this unpretentious LA neighborhood, for some odd reason, people care.
It begins with his perky real estate broker Meg, (Cheryl Hines) who is baffled by Henry’s insistence on buying a certain home which isn’t on the market and his refusal to bargain down the price of the drab bungalow he finally does buy from her. She even has the place re-stuccoed and painted as a surprise for him, since he insisted on paying full price, and he is rather ungrateful in his reaction to her kindness. She informs his next door neighbors of his peculiar behavior and they start to look in on him, provoking Henry’s exasperation. His middle aged next door neighbor Esperanza (outstanding performance by Adrianna Barraza) tries to establish ties by mean of a plate of tamales, but Henry rebuffs her. Just why is he so insistent on being alone when he is obviously miserable?
Henry Poole is a complex character ably played in a memorable performance by Luke Wilson whose portrayal reaches deeper into his emotions than any male character since Jose in Bella. He has the same air of tragedy without Jose’s nobility of character, in Henry Poole, it’s the women who are gallant. All of them have seen heartache: Esperanza has just lost the love of her life and Dawn was deserted to raise her daughter alone, yet their private grief has made them more sensitive to the pain which Henry is feeling, and it inspires them to reach out to their hurting neighbor.
Henry Poole is Here has an intriguing title and opens the question of why everyone around him cares for drunk, gloomy, intractable Henry. Indie films have a penchant for leaving clues which are only intelligible later in the film, keeping the viewers mentally perched in the edge of their seats. Henry Poole is Here is no exception, and the miraculous image of Christ which appears on the wall of his home does not turn this into a simplistic religious-themed film. This film is about the interior workings of a human heart which is raw with grief, and completely bereft of hope. It is rich in visual cues, such as the moonlit nights which give way to dawn, which happens to be the name of Henry’s beautiful next door neighbor (Radha Mitchell) whose oddly silent daughter (Morgan Lily) has been watching and recording him on her tape recorder.
Even the lyrics of the songs in the soundtrack provide insights into the tenor of Henry’s emotions. Patience, hope, and especially love are missing in the life of this man who has sought out his childhood home to find peace at the end of his life. The film flashes back to his childhood in unhappy scenes, parental feuds, and a lonely boy writing his name under the bridge. Henry has just been told that he is going to die young. This is why he is angry at the whole world, pushing it away, and seeking peace by reconnecting to his unhappy childhood even as the Hound of Heaven locks His sights on Henry.
Director Mark Pellington, who lost his wife to cancer, has visited that of the valley of shadows, and gives us a film which, as dark as it is in places, draws us into Henry’s agony, then suddenly bursts open with potent moments of joy in which the love of his neighbors and the quirky store clerk Patience (Rachel Seifert) are the conduit of grace into his life. They believe that the face of Christ has appeared on his wall, and won’t rest until Henry surrenders and accepts the love of his neighbors and comes to believe in the mysterious image which, like them, won’t allow Henry to give up hope. He does have a future, and somebody loves him.
This marvelous film will have you talking long after your post-film lattes are finished, examining your own reaction to the ways in which God has tried to touch your life through others, and your response. References to the Catholic Church are respectful, and George Lopez plays the priest who is organizing the investigation into the alleged miracle on the wall. His portrayal of a priest, though not a major part of the film, was warm and engaging yet displayed the mind of the Church in the face of extraordinary signs as that which appears on Henry’s wall.
Recommended for adolescents and older, due to sober content, mild language, revealing outfits and outbursts of rage.