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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Henry Poole Is Here

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"Henry Poole Is Here" - Poingnant Movie Goes Beyond 'Face' Value

In a summer filled with goofy comedies, action packed adventures and film adaptations of comic book super heroes, faith based audiences, especially devout Christians are sure to welcome this religious themed movie. For others, there is still much to take away from this modern day fable that also explores the mystical and unexplained occurrences of everyday life.

Luke Wilson (The Royal Tannenbaums, brother of Owen) delivers an emotionally moving performance, the best of his career, as Henry Poole, a sad and angry man that has just purchased a run down house in an L.A. suburb near the home where he grew up. Through a flashback sequence we learn that Henry’s doctor had given him devastating news about his health after a routine medical examination. Now, all he wants is to be left alone, drown his sorrow in liquor, eat junk food, and stare out into space. Hope for a solitary existence is shattered by interference from his surrounding female neighbors and a startling, unexpected outside influence.

Next door, on one side of his house, lives Esperanza (Mexican actress Adriana Barraza, Oscar nominated for her stellar work in Babel, and once again excellent here), a friendly, well meaning, but snoopy Latina, and on the other side is Dawn (a radiant Radha Mitchell, Melinda and Melinda) a young blonde divorcee raising her wide eyed eight year old daughter Millie (impressive young newcomer Morgan Lilly) who hasn’t spoken a word since her father left. Although silent, the child enjoys spying on Henry in his backyard and tape recording his conversations. It’s a no-brainer that eventually Henry will develop a strong emotional connection with Dawn and her troubled daughter.

Shortly after Henry settles in, Esperanza drops by with a housewarming gift of homemade tamales. Soon, the ball is set in motion when the religious Catholic woman claims to see the image of Christ on the newly painted outside wall of Henry’s house. Henry sees it as nothing more than a water stain and is annoyed by her insistence to have her priest, Father Salazar (a serious, restrained comedy actor George Lopez, cast against type) view what she believes is a miracle and a sign from God. More astounding, blood suddenly appears to be dripping from the image’s eye and no matter how hard Poole tries to power wash the entire image away, it fails to disappear. Of course, that only attracts the attention of more church going true believers in the area who are convinced it is there for a reason, especially when miracles start happening to those who touch it.

The phenomenon begins one night when Millie gets out of her bed, visits the wall, touches the face, and begins to talk. Later, Patience (another newcomer, Rachel Seifirth making a shiny film debut), a severely near sighted grocery check out girl, is drawn to the site and upon hands on experience discovers she has 20/20 vision and no longer needs her thick, coke bottle eye glasses. No matter how angry Henry gets at the intrusion into his privacy or how hard he tries to dismiss the evidence that some force greater than him is at work, the disillusioned man can’t escape the redeeming power of hope.

As a non-religious, yet spiritual person, I will admit, the heavy handed, holier than thou preaching that equates the image of Christ with the belief in God is a bit off putting, condescending and won’t win any converts. Writer Albert Torres makes no bones about sending a clear message about the power of faith, hope, and his religious convictions. No surprise, the female characters have symbolic names; Esperanza (Spanish for Hope), Dawn, and Patience. For director Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies) who lost his wife to cancer and was left alone to raise his young child, the life affirming story rings close to home and is personal.

Yet, there is an underlying overtone that weaves throughout the story which hits more of a chord for me. And that pertains to the nature of coincidences, a string of events that seem random but happen for a reason and leave an impact on those involved.

There are flaws in the script and without a doubt audiences are asked to suspend dis-belief and go with the flow regardless of plot holes. However, as the central focus relates to the unexplained, I suppose it is fitting. Religious leanings aside, the film evolves as a touching (no pun intended), rewarding experience enhanced by terrific performances from the entire cast, along with the great music soundtrack that accompany applicable scenes.

You don’t have to believe in miracles to like this movie. As a magical, beautiful, and effective story, it is relevant to know there is more than meets the eye.