'Henry Poole is Here' is a secret gem from 2008. While I usually can't stand feel-good movies and their generic manipulative plots, 'Henry Poole' is quite different. It features a refreshing story, life-like characters, an honest mood and a great cast. Religion rarely makes an appearance in modern mainstream cinema, but it plays a key role in 'Henry Poole.' Although it features a few prominently Catholic characters, one needs not be Catholic - nor Christian, for that matter - to enjoy the story at hand.
When the film opens, we meet moody Henry (Luke Wilson) and automatically know that something is wrong. He is either dying or planning on killing himself - which of the two it is, we don't find out until later. Henry has just moved into a new home and wants to become a hermit. When the neighbors come to greet them, he nicely turns them away to remain all by his lonesome. But something strange happens that causes the friendly neighbors to intrude on his quiet loathing.
Prior to moving in, the previous owners refinished the old stucco walls. In the process of their shoddy job, they left a large water stain - a stain that leads one nosy Catholic neighbor to believe she sees the literal face of Christ in it. What she deems a "miracle," Henry views as a nuisance and is quick to get rid of it. As much as he bleaches and scrubs the stain, his efforts only seem to make the image stronger. As "believers" come to pray to and touch the image, odd things begin to happen. Whether you call them miracles or coincidences is up to you. No religion is ever forced upon you.
It is absolutely refreshing to watch a film without a single bit of negativity. Everyone has great intentions. The slow mood builds more and more positive as it progresses.
Director Mark Pellington isn't widely known, but he should be. His career started off small with television and mini-series episodes and music videos for well-known bands Pearl Jam, U2, and Alice in Chains. His music video experience, the ability to tell short dialogue-less stories set to music, really adds to 'Henry Poole is Here.' Henry fears not existing, being forgotten and left behind - but it is inevitable. Through a few short music video-esque montages, we intimately understand - without words, mind you - what he is going through internally and how he's coming to terms with it.
With a little tacked-on unnecessary drama towards the end of the film, 'Henry Poole' isn't perfect, but it sure is a warmly welcome rare feel-good movie of genuine and honest intent.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Henry Poole' arrives on a Region A locked BD-50 in a standard blue keepcase. Upon inserting the disc, you're forced to watch an FBI warning, an Anchor Bay vanity reel and a commentary disclaimer, after which a skippable advertisement for various Anchor Bay Blu-rays plays before taking you to the main menu.
'Henry Poole is Here' is one of the very best looking Blu-rays in my collection. Its 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is pitch perfect with a perfectly filmic amount of grain.
A strong amount of detail is clearly and constantly visible from the opening scene to closing credits. Facial imperfection, Wilson's individual neck beard hairs and tiny gnats and flies that buzz onlookers are perfectly distinguishable - no matter where they lie within the frame. When Henry is engaged in a friendly slow motion water fight with the neighbors, each drop of water can seen upon impact. The smallest imperfections on any actor's skin are clearly visible.
Colors appear completely natural and vibrant. Fleshtones are always realistic. Blue skies are deep and bold. Each thread-like muscle fiber of a neighbor girl's iris collectively make up two of the prettiest, most powerful blue eyes ever filmed. Blacks are inky and wildly dark. Shadows are mostly perfectly delineated with rigidly detailed edges, the exceptions being a few scenes where the directorial decision was to enhance the contrast, darken the shadows and lose all detail within them. Contrast is used to enhance the tone of a scene. When Henry is "sad and angry," the thick blacks erase anything shadowed. When shocked or unwell, the contrast is blasted in the other direction and overpowering whites dominate. But when all is well, the contract is flawless and realistic.
From a small quiet film, it's all the more impressive to have a perfect video rating.
Anchor Bay gave 'Henry Poole' a hearty and practical lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track. As much detail and tone as the strong video quality adds to the film, so does the audio.
Mostly set in the backyard of a Southern California home, 'Henry Poole' features an amazing ambient sound that truly matches that of its location. Birds are constantly chirping in the quiet distance. Faint noises of cars driving down far off bustling highways can be heard. On screen passing vehicles move from channel to channel as if rolling through your home theater. These filmmakers knew exactly how to use sound to match and enhance the mood and tone of their film.
The only problem that arises from this astounding mix is found within the dialog volume. Dialog is never eaten up by music or effects, but at times is quite low during already quiet scenes. Some whispery dialog given during otherwise silent scenes can be hard to hear - even if the volume is already turned up high. Aside from that slight problem, the audio is just as strong as the video.
It drives me crazy when corny manipulative feel-good movies like 'The Blind Side' get critical acclaim and small low-budget high-quality ones like 'Henry Poole is Here' get none. For once, a fantastic little film gets the proper, near perfect Blu-ray release it deserves. A film of this caliber deserves to be seen in such a way. If you haven't seen 'Henry Poole is Here,' there couldn't be a better way to experience it than the Blu-ray offers. Highly recommended.