One of the best Westerns of recent years, Old Henry starring Tim Blake Nelson as a simple farmer with a dark past comes home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. A new classic for the genre, the film deserved to be seen on the big screen as Nelson, Stephen Dorff, and the rest of the excellent cast deliver one hell of a thrilling film. Written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli; if you love Westerns, don't miss it! After an excellent run on Blu-ray, Shout Factory gives this film a fitting 4K HDR10 upgrade with the same excellent audio, but still lacks anything hefty in the bonus features department. If you haven't picked this one up yet - very Highly Recommended
[This portion of our review was previously published in 2021 for the original Blu-ray Release]
Homesteader Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) has been living west into the Oklahoma territory as long back as when it was still Indian land. He married, had a son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), and lived in relative peace. Now a widower, he must raise his head-strong son alone. When they take in a wounded stranger (Scott Haze), a man by the name of Ketchum (Stephen Dorff) identifying himself as a lawman and his two deputies arrive on Henry’s land. They claim the man they have with them is an outlaw bank robber, but with a few secrets of his own - Henry knows an outlaw when he sees one. When Ketchum and his hired guns lay siege on the farm, Henry’s dark past will come to violent light.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Westerns aren’t made that often and when they are they’re usually uneventful direct-to-video cast-offs. Westerns were once the most prevalent film genre in theaters for decades made by filmmakers the world over. Big budget or small, literally dozens of Westerns were made every year. After the early 90s one-two punch of Best Picture winners Dances With Wolves and Unforgiven, the genre has faded out. Occasionally there’s a new great western that comes along, but they’re relatively few and far between. Even when fans are treated to a new one we get a “modernized-Western” like Let Him Go or a genre hybrid like Serenity or The Mandalorian series on Disney+. Genuine true to form Westerns are fairly rare. Just as rare, is a true Western that’s actually great and Old Henry fits that bill. I’ve watched this film a few times now and I’m kicking my ass every day that I didn’t go see this in the theater when I had a brief shot to do so.
At its core, Old Henry is a siege film. The good guys are stuck in a single small location with rapidly dwindling supplies surrounded by bandits. They have to make every bullet count - and Tim Blake Nelson’s icy Henry knows how to make them count. The Hero With A History is often a silly trope but writer/director Potsy Ponciroli uses it wisely. We know Henry is a man with a past because he never directly answers his son’s many questions and has a coat of battle scars stitched all over his back. It could have been left at that - Henry is a badass. But Ponciroli goes one level deeper with the character allowing this reveal to not only be a major character beat but also a very exciting revelation. Thankfully the film doesn't completely lean on this reveal in such a way that's a one-trick pony. The film would still have been great without it, but when the past is revealed it's a nice accent to an already tight script.
But an interesting hero isn’t anything without a great villain - and Stephen Dorff once again delivers in that department. Dorff may not be signing onto any comic book movies anytime soon, but that’s okay if he keeps finding meaty roles like this one. Scott Haze holds his own as the wounded man of mystery. Of the supporting cast, Gavin Lewis was another excellent choice as he plays headstrong without becoming obnoxious or irritating. You feel his frustration with his life but then you soon learn why he was raised how and where he was. Trace Adkins drops by long enough to set some character mood and deliver the perfect line for the trailer.
I’ve had Old Henry on my deck to review for a while. Other projects kept coming and pushed it around the queue so this is admittedly long overdue. That said, I loved this movie and as I mentioned I've watched it a few times now and I enjoy it more each time I sit down with it. I guess I needed a great new western to dig into. After his time on The Homesman and his hilariously entertaining turn in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as a song and dance cowboy and now this cool as the grave turn, Tim Blake Nelson needs to be doing more westerns. He’s always been a versatile character actor, but damn, this is a suit that fits the actor far better than I’d expected.
Quick additional note for this review, I've gone through this movie nearly a dozen times now in the last year. As such, I've raised my final score to a full 5/5 from my previous 4.5/5. Whatever little niggles and quibbles I previously had about it just don't matter anymore. This one is a modern classic in my book.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Old Henry walks onto 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a new two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray release. The 4K version is pressed on a BD-100 disc whereas the 1080p edition is the same BD-50 from the 2021 Blu-ray release. Both discs are housed in a two-disc black case with identical slip cover artwork. Both discs load to the same static image main menu with a simple navigation system on the bottom of the screen.
When Old Henry first hit Blu-ray from Shout Factory, it was also released to various streaming services in 4K HDR10. At the time of my original Blu-ray review, I'd checked it out on Amazon and Vudu and found that it offered few noteworthy differences over the Blu-ray. I also followed that up by waxing curious about how that transfer would appear on disc - and here we are. While apples-to-oranges comparisons may not yield dramatically different results, I will tip my hat towards this (presumably upscaled) 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray HDR10 transfer. On disc with a strong bitrate that routinely holds into the 80mbps and peaks into the 90s, this presentation wipes out the digital streaming experience.
Looking at the finer details of this image, I was pleased to see a modest uptick in clarity. Apparently, this film was shot digitally and finished with a 2K DI so there's not a lot of wiggle room for improvements, but I did feel that closeups of various grizzled bearded faces and important objects enjoyed an uptick in clarity. The faux grain filter applied to this 2.66:1 image also looks more natural and cinematic than the Blu-ray edition. Wide shots and some middle shots may not showcase the most dramatic clarity differences but I felt in a few shots - especially when Henry is hiding in the tall grasses - that sharper details did surface.
As for this HDR10 grading, it's been very judiciously applied without blowing out colors, whites, or going too deep with blacks. Everything has been enhanced in the right areas. Colors are still the same drab fall-like hue, but this time I felt primaries had a little more life to them. Reds blood picked up a little more splash and Henry's blue scarf popped nicely offering a welcome contrast to the color palette. Skin tones are still healthy and look relatively unaltered. Whites are crisp. The bright blooming through windows appears to be a style choice and were evident though the 1080p version but now offers additional light shading and color gradience inside Henry's home. Likewise, black levels for those dimly-lit night sequences are deeper but the extra light shading provides some additional detail clarity. This was especially helpful for the night shootout sequence but also when Henry and Curry are speaking in the dark with the orange flickering lamp light the additional fine details and shadow gradience was appreciable.
At the end of the day - this probably isn't enough of a difference maker to make this new disc release a worthwhile double dip. I'll say this is the superior visual experience, but not to a scale that folks who are perfectly happy with their Blu-rays should feel the need to run out and grab it. That said, if you haven't yet snagged this for your collection, the 4K is the way to go.
Shout Factory carries over the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks from the previous release - and that's perfectly okay with me. While some cry foul about the lack of Atmos or DTS:X on the formant, it's just not warranted for every movie when the sound design has already been handled with such care and attention. Which is the case here:
This film is also gifted an excellent DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. From the opening gunfight to the first scenes on Henry’s rough farm, there is a fully immersive auditory experience. Dialog is clean and clear - even through a variety of accent choices from the cast. Imaging is terrific using all of the channels in smart ways - it may not be a constantly guns blazing track but there’s always something keeping the channels active. Scoring by Jordan Lehning is appropriately moody and accentuates any given scene nicely without being a distraction. If you’re so inclined, it works very well with DTS Neural:X employed, opening up that sense of space and isolation but also bringing real impact when the action starts.
Sadly there aren't any new bonus features. I was hoping some additional making of materials, interviews, or an audio commentary, but sadly that's not the case. Once again, don't watch these extras before you see the film... not sure if anyone does that but just in case.
A year after its Blu-ray and streaming 4K debut, Potsy Ponciroli's excellent Western Old Henry comes home to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. The film is a classic modern western. Far better than I'd expected it to be and the simple fact that I keep coming back to it, again and again, it earns it a spot on my shelf as a new favorite. Tim Blake Nelson is amazing turning in one hell of a performance while Stephen Dorff delivers one of his best outings as a cold-blooded villain. If you haven't given Old Henry a run, now's a perfect time. Shout Factory returns with an excellent 2-Disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The HDR10 transfer may not quite be enough of an improvement for fans satisfied with their Blu-rays to demand a double-dip, but if you haven't picked it up this is a lovely image coupled with a fantastic audio mix to match. Sadly no new bonus features came aboard this release, and that's a genuine shame as I'd love to hear more from the cast and crew about the making of the film. At the end of the day - Old Henry is still Highly Recommended regardless of which format you chose to add to the collection.