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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Book of Henry (Blu-ray)
The Book of Henry (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // October 3, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted October 22, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

Ah, so this is the film that allegedly lost Colin Trevorrow his shot at directing Star Wars: Episode IX. The Jurassic World director was well into pre-production on that movie, but Lucasfilm announced in September that Trevorrow was leaving the project over "creative differences." A likely story. Anyway, back to The Book of Henry, Trevorrow's passion project that was universally booed upon its release earlier this year. This odd, thematically challenging drama is not nearly the debacle some made it out to be, but it certainly left an odd taste in my mouth. Eleven-year-old Henry Carpenter (Jaeden Lieberher), a boy genius, lives with his single mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), and younger brother, Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry's classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler) lives next door with her police-commissioner stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris). One night, Henry sees Glenn physically abusing Christina, and sets in motion a plan to save his friend that involves some very questionable tactics.

It is almost fruitless to have any sort of meaningful discussion of The Book of Henry without diving into its plot points, so much of what follows will definitely dip into SPOILER territory. You have been warned. I hate using words like "twee" in my reviews, but that's kind of the vibe The Book of Henry gives off almost immediately. Henry is incredibly smart and somewhat socially awkward. Despite his youth, Henry is tasked with helping Peter with homework, giving his mom life advice and handling the family's finances. Susan is a waitress and writes children's books in her spare time, and often gets wine drunk with friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Early scenes of the family are almost sickly sweet, and do not really resonate despite good performances from Watts and her young co-stars. Once Henry sees the physical abuse from his bedroom window, he tries to report it to his principal and others, but the police commissioner is top dog in town and apparently untouchable. This is somewhat unbelievable, and I will not dive into any critique of how the department of social services handles suspected child abuse cases. So, what's a young boy to do but plot the ol' commissioner's murder?

That would be an interesting plot twist in the vein of the giddy and gritty Hanna, but (here come the real spoilers, folks, I'm serious) Henry dies. The young boy ignores constant headaches and blurred vision until a seizure sends him to the hospital. He survives for a few more days until one particularly disturbing scene when Henry dies reaching for sunlight in his mother's arms. F**k. What I hoped was going to turn into a shucks-kids-are-crazy coming of age story where Henry would save his friend without actually killing anyone then turns into a bizarre second hour of Watts avenging her son's heartache and plotting to kill Glenn by following instructions Henry left behind in his journal. The audience hears Susan's inner monologue, to which Henry responds with reasons she can't call the police or handle the matter rationally. One message the movie gets right is Susan's ultimate revelation that she is listening to the words of a sick child whose judgment is very clouded.

I did not absolutely hate this movie as some did, but the odd mishmash of themes makes The Book of Henry difficult to swallow. The other side of the abuse is very underdeveloped, and, perhaps due to its PG-13 rating, what happens across the street is largely left to the imagination. Tension in the climax is minimal, and I never felt like Susan was in much physical or reputational danger. The failing here is with the story and Gregg Hurwitz's screenplay. Watts is quite good and tempers some of the more unbelievable scenes. Lieberher and Tremblay are also impressive, and their performances here promise long careers should these boys choose to stay in Hollywood. I hope The Book of Henry does not sink Trevorrow's career. I think it is well intentioned, and it tries to weave a unique story. Things do not exactly pan out for Trevorrow or his cast, and the end result is a queasy curiosity.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

Presented in an uncommon 2.00:1 aspect ratio, The Book of Henry's 1080p/AVC-encoded image looks expectedly good. Universal again provides a hefty bitrate, which eliminates compression issues. Fine-object detail is excellent, and the grain from this film-shot production is natural and fluid in motion. Handsomely shot by John Schwartzman, The Book of Henry offers beautiful texture and fine-object detail in costumes, facial features and locations. Colors are expertly saturated, and black levels push just slightly grey in spots.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix supports this dialogue-heavy film with ease. Ambient effects and the infrequent action effects make use of the surrounds, and the subwoofer supports these bursts. The score is rich and appropriately integrated. The mix could be more immersive, but it is certainly pleasing. French and German 5.1 DTS mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and German subs.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and codes to redeem iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. You get two short extras, Filming The Book of Henry (9:06/HD), a quick making-of, and The Book of Henry: The Cast (8:52/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Colin Trevorrow's The Book of Henry swings and misses with tonal inconsistencies and a queasy story. Despite the strong performances from Naomi Watts and her young castmates, this movie remains more talking point than satisfying drama. Rent It.


Additional screenshots:

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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