I've got to admit, when I first saw this Blu-ray disc arrive, with Luke Wilson and George Lopez on the cover, I didn't have any idea what to expect, but my gut was telling me this was a pretentious failed indie project. But you that feeling you get when you go into a film without little preconceived notions and you find yourself coming out surprised? Well, that's what happened to me when I saw Henry Poole Is Here, an unassuming film written by freshman screenwriter Albert Torres and directed by Mark Pellington (Arlington Road).
Wilson plays Poole, who has just moved into a modest California neighborhood. As we find out later, he is diagnosed with a terminal illness and doesn't have much longer to live, and he wants to spend his final days in a world of alcohol, Krispy Kremes and delivered pizzas. His neighbor Esperanza (Adriana Berraza, Babel) pays him a housewarming visit, but eventually discovers that there's a flaw in the stucco on the outside of Henry's house which looks remarkably like Jesus. She consults a priest at the local Catholic Church (Lopez) for more information and guidance on it, particularly when the stain starts "bleeding." Things slowly become more astounding, as Dawn (Radha Mitchell, Finding Neverland) finds her young daughter Millie touching the wall, and then speaking to her mother, something she hadn't done since her father left them. A grocery clerk at the store Henry frequents named Patience (Rachel Seiferth) come to Henry's house and touches the stain, and regains her sight, after years of being behind glasses that put Coke bottles to shame. Henry is not religious and doesn't believe in these miracles, but as they grow in their impact, he develops a relationship with Dawn and wonders if these things could maybe, just maybe, happen to him at some point.
Torres' script pulls a fast one on the viewer from the jump. Rather than focus on the stain/miracle, or let the characters/story reach for an emotional moment that isn't there, the film looks at these events from Henry's point of view in a convincing manner. It's rather easy to dismiss Esperanza and members of the neighborhood (or are they her church?) as a bunch of wackos, but in an era where things aren't the most cheeriest right now, isn't having hope (or faith) a little valuable in any sense of the word? That hope is something that Henry doesn't have. He's comfortable with death, as his diet I mentioned earlier illustrates. He also wants to succumb peacefully to his illness, and doesn't want to be bothered. So he does whatever he can to remove the stain, although it just becomes larger and more discernible. Combined with the blind kindness and generosity of his neighbors, he slowly regains hope and self-worth. This is where I'll disagree with Jason Bailey's review of the SD DVD on the montage. As a kid growing up, Henry disappeared to avoid listening and watching his parents fight. He returns to this place to discover this place, and the writing on the wall has now been worn off. His old place, his identity, is gone, and in the new house, he attempted to resurrect an identity or record of his being.
It's because of that scene (and a few others) why I think that Wilson's performance might be the most emotionally broad of his career. He's played the awkward/bashful/slightly comic role so many times over the last decade you could put him in for a couple of laughs. But that ground has been travelled so many friggin' times it's ridiculous. Henry is a guy who has lost all hope and slowly regains it, and Wilson is convincing as such, and even squeezes in a laugh or two along the way. Pellington, known for his striking visual style, appears to be slightly restrained compared to his other work, but lets the story speak for itself and adds a beautiful visual when necessary. His work combined with Torres' script makes for a film that's both realistic and optimistic simultaneously in an outstanding effort.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 2.35:1 1080p widescreen presentation of Henry Poole Is Here uses the MPEG-4 codec and it's excellent viewing. Pellington (with longtime collaborator Eric Schmidt as cinematographer) keeps things simple, but on the wide street shots, you can spot a lot of depth detail in the yards in the background, and up close, the facial detail on Wilson's pseudo-beard is easy to see. On one of the first shots of the stain with Esperanza, you can see the gnats in the heat as they move away from the characters that stop to look at it. Blacks crush in Henry's house, but when he gets outside, like during the dinner with Dawn, they look outstanding. Flesh tones are replicated accurately without any additional color push towards them, and the overall film looks amazing, as any Mark Pellington film should.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround experiencing that turns out to be another pleasant surprise. Dialogue is well-balanced in the center channel, and when characters move off screen, dialogue follows them in a nice effort at panning. Similar efforts with environmental noises like cars going by are also effective. There are a couple of songs that help show the dynamics off a little bit, notably "Not Dark Yet" by Bob Dylan, and they're clear as a bell through all channels. Subwoofer activity on the low end is at a minimum but it's not like you're walking into a action film, and all in all the film sounds solid.
Two commentaries accompany the film, but I'll speak to the second one first, because it's an apparent Blu-ray exclusive. Pellington and Schmidt have been working together for a decade, and they are two fountains of technical information for the aspiring film students in the house. Lens selection and film stock are covered by Schmidt, along with types of cameras and the discussion on shooting on film versus high definition. Pellington covers his influences and philosophy of running a set, while the production itself was covered throughout the track. The track shifts to more of a production focus the last third or so, but it's an excellent track. The other track with Pellington and Torres is no slouch either; Torres was on set and recalls his contributions to the film and in a nugget of trivia, Jim Carrey was attached to and worked on the story for a brief period as well. Pellington discusses his newfound sobriety and the death of his wife, and how he came to the film, and the film's debate about spirituality vs. religion is touched upon briefly too. The obligatory thoughts on the cast are shared and how the film turned out is discussed as well. Like the other, this has a host of information and is well worth the time. The making-of featurette (15:49) is a little disappointing; it's the usual cast and crew thoughts about, well, the cast and crew. Everyone also shares what they think the film's about, and what people will get when they walk away from it. It's cookie-cutter compared to the commentaries. The deleted scenes include optional commentary with Pellington and Torres, and there are a bunch of them (12, 31:12). A quarter of the time is spent with Henry's backstory, including a scene with Jessica Walter (Arrested Development), and aside from another that brings Esperanza's loss home more emotionally, the other scenes are forgettable. A music video (3:34) follows, along with the trailer (2:21) on this BD-Live enabled puppy.
I'm pretty cynical by habit and nature, but I was pulled into Henry Poole's life and those around him. With an effective story shot much better than I was expecting it to be, combined with Wilson's performance, the result is a modest reflection on faith, spirituality and one's place in the world. Technically the disc looks and sounds good and from a supplemental point of view, gives you quite a good bang for your buck. Now that you've heard of it, do yourself a favor and seek it out and watch it, you'll be just as impressed as I was.