Review by Robert Bell (A-)
To dismiss Henry Poole is Here as a maudlin rumination on faith and religion would be to ignore the inherent human struggles and blatant annihilation anxieties rumbling beneath the surface, which are exposed only through the central "religious" plot device that unites a group of people who would otherwise have little to do with each other. Faith acts as a simple fulcrum to expose incontrovertible feelings of disappointment, rage and lost hope.
Surface thematic interpretation aside, systemic cultural incertitude surrounding sincere emotion and the fear of complex mortal thoughts outside of the minutia that society is socialized to value and prioritize will likely cause most to ignore Henry Poole's deeper human themes, which is really a shame as it's one of the better films thus far in 2008.
When he is unable to convince homeowners to sell a house he desperately wants, an angry and disconsolate Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) settles for a dilapidated house down the street. Settling into his routine of getting drunk by himself and eating frozen pizza, Henry is interrupted by an enthusiastic neighbour named Esperanza (Adriana Barazza) who believes a watermark on the side of his house to be the face of Jesus.
Given that Henry moved to the neighbourhood to be left alone, her bubbling persistence and endless religious prattle is particularly unwelcome and only complicated when he meets the mute daughter (Morgan Lily) of his much more affable neighbour Dawn (Radha Mitchell).
Through his newly established relationships, Henry is forced to again battle the learned belief that hope and expectation begets pain and disappointment.
It is true that Albert Torres' script paints subtlety like a 4-year old with an oversized crayon by imbuing central characters with names like "Dawn", "Patience" and Esperanza (which means "Hope") and having them spout dialogue like "Hope won't save me", but Pellington's direction of the material is really rather impressive. He clearly understands despondency and defeat and frames his characters with emotional truth rather than the usual hip and ostentatious vulgarity an emotionally detached audience is accustomed to.
Moments of stillness and reflection will be interpreted as either dull or moving depending on the expectations and connectivity of the viewer, and as such will likely divide audience appreciation of the film. Regardless, it would be difficult to ignore the visual cohesion and use of positioning and lighting to reinforce character representation.
Also difficult to ignore is the sheer magnetism of Adriana Barazza who all but steals the show as an almost manically hopeful woman desperate to believe that such an unfair world can have miracles. There is an energy and complexity in her performance that is both touching and amusing.
Quite simply, this is a film that boils down human complexity to the basic anxieties that create conflict and has the balls to answer the question "Why?" with "Why not?" (Seville)
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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