We have seen quite a few films that serve up certain opinions about Faith, Hope and Redemption. Quite frankly, these type of films have the very dangerous potential to be exceedingly melodramatic, with its themes taken too solemnly. Director Mark Pennington's "HENRY POOLE IS HERE" does a lot of things right with Albert Torres' script, as the director goes into neutral territory with its execution and approaches with a serious tone rather than a somber one. It cleverly sidesteps the trappings of other films of this genre.
Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) is a depressed man whose life has been shattered beyond his control, moves into a small suburban home located in his childhood neighborhood to isolate himself and to drink himself to death. His self-imposed exile is disturbed when his next door neighbor Esperanza (played by academy award nominee Adriana Barazza, Babel) discovers a mysterious water stain on Henry's stucco wall claiming that it bears the image of God. What makes it more strange is the fact that miraculous things begin to occur. With the help of a beautiful young divorcee, (played by Radha Mitchell, Finding Neverland) and her daughter Millie (Morgan Lily), Henry finds himself gradually drawn back towards life and hope. His decision to live out his days in quiet desperation is going to be much harder than he imagined.
The film is a thematic affair, it has strong touches of Faith, Hope and happiness. The script fortunately stays grounded enough for me to make a connection with its characters since its approach feels very sincere but never cynical--not at all sentimental and very clever. Pennington and Torres executes the screenplay with more facts than silly sentimentality. There are also romantic elements and some scenes are quite comedic, but the script manages to stay solid even though certain aspects were a little predictable. The director manages to misdirect our expectations while giving its final act strong credibility. The third act is actually the film's strongest point, as it does prove quite gripping and even a little suspenseful; I was left wondering as to how everything was going to play out.
The acting is quite good. I thought Luke Wilson did an excellent portrayal. If you look into his eyes, you can't help but see his character's sadness and hopelessness. Quite a change since I'm so used to seeing him in comedies such as "Old School". I guess it is true when they say that a comedian can easily pull off a dramatic role, since it is harder to make people laugh than to shed a tear--Wilson displays raw versatility. Radha Mitchell is definitely one hot single mother and she definitely has magnetic appeal. Furthermore, her daughter played by Morgan Lily is so cute and charming that you can't help but like her character and generate genuine sympathy. George Lopez is a little underused as the kindly father Salazar, but his character proved an interesting plot device to get everything moving. Adrianna Barazza almost steals the show, this actress can charm, convince and just full of that nosy, but sweet and warm charisma.
The direction by Pennington is quite impressive and perfectly complements the script. The way the director composed his shots were very distinct with its visual flair. Sure the film's shots is kept simple, however, Pennington wisely utilizes close ups, and shadows to portray the film's many emotions and mood. The filmmakers' best success is the fact that they managed to keep the film very real, and avoids the potential trappings with the silliness of its main premise--a stain on a wall is rather difficult to build a story around. It involves a lot of commitment and careful open-mindedness to fulfill all its possibilities with the proper approach.
Still the film does have its flaws, some scenes were a little trite, and there are some limited plot distractions as well some faux pas in style, but the film proved quite compelling and daring enough to hold my attention. The film portrays its story on faith and miracles with a very non-cynical approach, avoids satirical trappings and religious polemic that results in a film truly motivating and thoughtful with its warm sincerity. The film is worth watching for those on the trodden path.
Recommended! [3 ½ + Stars]
Video/Audio: 2.40 ratio anamorphic widescreen and 1.33 Full Frame. I went for the widescreen version, that displays a crisp attractive picture. There are some compression artifacts but not really distracting. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is very nice and has quite a lot of bass that definitely enhances this dialogue heavy film.
Extras: Commentaries by Torres and Pennington/ Making of feature/ music videos and trailers
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