Harry & Son director Paul Newman (The Sting) stars as Harry Keach, a widowed, blue collar, by-the-book construction worker whose less-than-ideal relationship with his sensitive, daydreaming son, Howard (Robby Benson, Ice Castles) sets the story in motion. Frustrated by Howard’s inability to take life seriously, Harry is soon confronted with his own mortality when an on-the-job accident offers him an opportunity to re-evaluate his life and shortcomings. Harry & Son co-stars Joanne Woodward (Rachel, Rachel, The Three Faces of Eve), Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, Diner), Wilford Brimley (The Firm, The Thing). Judith Ivey (The Devil’s Advocate, Flag of Our Fathers), Ossie Davis (Do The Right Thing, TV’s “King”), and Morgan Freeman (Glory, The Dark Knight).
"I could come unglued here, I really could!"
Family dramas can be a bit of a tough sell. You want things to be dramatically pleasing, but you don't want things so heavy that you make the audience feel like the world sucks. At the same time you need to have a bit of a sense of humor, but you don't want things to be too dopey you alienate your audience. I have to tip my hat to Paul Newman who co-wrote, starred in, and directed 'Harry & Son' - he manages to blend a fairly straight and serious film with enough heart and charm to put a smile on your face.
Harry Keach (Paul Newman) has been widowed for two years. He's set himself into the routine of where he gets up every day, goes to his job as a heavy machinery operator, goes bowling, has a couple beers and then goes home. His son Howard (Robby Benson) is a freshly graduated valedictorian who can't find meaningful work as he struggles to become a writer. Meanwhile his daughter Sally (Judith Ivey) and her insurance salesman husband are more interested in seeing what they can take from Harry rather than building anything resembling a meaningful relationship.
While his kids shift around their aimless lives, Harry has a secret he'd rather not tell anyone. Periodically Harry experiences a blinding white light flashing before his eyes and a searing pain in the back of his head. If Harry didn't operate heavy demolition equipment for a living, these symptoms wouldn't be much of a problem. After the blinding pain causes a worksite accident, Harry is without a job and has entirely too much time on his hands. Not a man to accept a helping hand, Harry turns away solid work offers, even the opportunity to join his brother Tom's (Wilford Brimley) army surplus business.
Rather than take care of himself, he rides his son for being lazy and not getting a job. Only Howard is looking for a job, but he hasn't found anything that fits his liking. He gets by as an auto detailer, but tries being a box feeder in a factory and an auto repo-man, all the while reconnecting with his pregnant former girlfriend (Ellen Barkin). The little things that shouldn't bother Harry get under his skin in a big way getting his anger up at all times. He can't accept he doesn't have any control over the things in his life, not his kids, not his health, not his job, and he certainly didn't have any control over his wife dying. Harry must find a way to move on with his life while learning he has to let his kids and the people he loves around him move on with theirs, with or without him.
Paul Newman may be known better as an actor than a director, but I found him to be in fine form here. Usually I get a little worried when I see credits for "starring" "written by" and "directed by" all attributed to the same person, but in this case those worries were entirely unfounded. 'Harry & Son' turned out to be a charming family drama that plays things straight while injecting just the right amount of humor to make the show feel real and heartfelt. The main cast is in top form, but it's the little touches from character actors like Ozzy Davis and Newman's own wife Joanne Woodward that really help round out the film. Robby Benson in particular earns a shout out as he carries a lot of the emotional weight in this film. It's easy to see where he channeled his voice work for Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast' years later.
'Harry & Son' could have very easily become entirely too melodramatic to be a good film, but thankfully Newman kept the ship on course. I didn't really know what to expect going into this one, but I'm glad it turned out well because it's one I want to show people. If you're in the mood for some nice calm sentimental entertainment, give this one a shot.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Harry & Son' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Olive Films pressed on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
Marking its Blu-ray debut, 'Harry & Son' makes for a clean and easy move to Blu-ray with this 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Detail levels are fantastic as light film grain has been retained throughout the film's runtime. Even during darker scenes, grain never feels too intrusive or overpowering. Colors are very strong allowing for plenty of primary pop. Flesh tones skew slightly pink, but that's probably largely due to the bright Florida film locations as cast members intermittently can look a little sun-burnt. All you have to do is look at Newman's eyes to see that blues look great. Black levels and shadows are pretty good. During the car repo scenes there is some pretty strong instances of crush making the image look a little flat, but over all this is a fine HD presentation for a catalogue release.
For a calm and quiet family drama, 'Harry & Son' gets a lot of life out of it's English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Since this is largely a dialogue focused film, levels keep to the midranges and rarely have the need to waver. Imaging is lively when necessary, from the loud construction site scenes early in the film, to the softer, quieter beach locations towards the end, dialogue, sound effects and the somber Henry Mancini composed score never have to fight over each other to be heard. Without any audible age related wear and tear, this is a pleasing audio track that lends itself well to this little film and should make fans more than happy.
No supplementary content.
I've only seen a couple of the films that Paul Newman had directed prior to seeing 'Harry & Son.' Given it's soft nature, it's easy to see how this one has fallen by the wayside over the last thirty years. Thanks to Olive Films pulling together the fine HD transfer and Master Audio track, 'Harry & Son' should hopefully find a new life and new audience on Blu-ray. Without any extra features to speak of this is difficult to recommend for a blind buy, but I strongly suggest you give this one a rent and discover if you're a fan. I found it to be a great way to spend an hour and forty minutes of my day.