Saturday, April 1, 2017

Regarding Henry

Year 9, Day 91 - 4/1/17 - Movie #2,585

BEFORE: See, I never have to worry as long as there are character actors, like Bruce Altman and Bruce McGill.  One of them was bound to give me a link to another film - Bruce Altman carries over this time from "Matchstick Men" and brings me back to Harrison Ford.  But you may well ask, why not put the two Harrison Ford films (this one and "Age of Adaline") together, instead of book-ending the week with them?  Ah, but that's the old way of thinking about linking, the new way is more inclusive.  Just look, by splitting up the two films, I was able to sandwich another four films (the two Reese Witherspoons and the two Nic Cages) in-between them, instead of relegating those films to the unlinkable section.  So I've got to look at the big picture, and sometimes that means splitting up two films that may appear to "obviously" belong together at first.

THE PLOT: Henry is a lawyer who survives a shooting only to find that he cannot remember anything.  He has to recover his speech and mobility, in a life he no longer fits into.  Fortunately, Henry has a loving wife and daughter to help him.

AFTER: And it seems like I've got an over-arching (though unintended, unless subconsciously) theme for the week - and it's all about redemption and empathy.  Going back to "Age of Adaline", where Adaline felt guilty for standing up her boyfriend who would continue to age when she magically wouldn't, continuing as errant wife and drug-user Cheryl Strayed decided to hike her way back to herself, and then we had Nicolas Cage as a thief who has to save his daughter in one film and a con-man who has to become a better parent in another.  Finally we examine a lawyer who gets shot during a robbery and has to re-learn everything, possibly becoming a better person in the process.  (I'll find a way to work "Hot Pursuit" in here too, just give me a minute...)

First we have to take a step back - what makes a good person/character good?  What makes another one bad?  Is it behavior, personality, attitude, past history, etc.?  Can bad characters redeem themselves and become good, and if so, what's it going to take?  Persistence, medication, going on a 1,000-mile hike?  Being a better cop, or going to Dallas to testify against a drug kingpin? (HAH! I knew I could work that one in somewhere...)  In this case, and this can only happen in a Hollywood film, I'll wager, it takes getting shot in the head.  Let's put aside for the moment that Harrison Ford probably took the role because it seemed like an easy path to an Oscar nomination ("My Left Foot", "Rain Man", "A Beautiful Mind" and countless others) and just focus on the unlikely redemptive ability of brain damage.

First off, the film has to establish Henry Turner as a grade-A, class-1 asshole, and it's only got a short time and a few scenes to do that.  OK, make him a lawyer - great, we're like halfway there already.  He's the kind of lawyer that defends big companies against malpractice suits, and that's telling.  Defending the client with the deepest pockets, screwing the little guy and his medical issues, maybe not telling the whole truth in the courtroom, but hey, that's the legal system, where burden of proof is on the accuser.  Make America great again, and what's right for our client is what's right overall.

We also gain insight from a phone conversation with his decorator - he HATES the dining room table she picked out, and if she doesn't replace it, she's fired.  So we hate Henry for his interpersonal skills, as well as his impossibly-large Manhattan apartment (townhouse?) with a maid, and then there's the way he disciplines his daughter, who apparently spilled juice on his piano or something.  After a night out with the other rich a-holes in his social circle, he goes in to apologize to his daughter, but instead only justifies his anger and disciplinary style, and then never gets around to actually apologizing.  Profile complete, we now all hate this man.

Fear not, all is fixed with a bullet wound or two.  The anoxia and resulting brain damage robs Henry of his memory, speech and motor skills, so he essentially is allowed to start over (wait, this was written by J.J. Abrams, so let's call it a reboot) and with the help of some speech therapy and physical therapy, he eventually regains his speech and movement, but who he was as a person is essentially gone.  But in every crisis there's an opportunity, so he's able to re-invent himself.  Now he hates eggs, likes the new dining room table, and thinks the family should have a dog. (In Manhattan?).  It's a dangerous plot point, because it may lead children to wish their parent would be shot, so they'd be nicer and more dog-friendly afterward.

But it's for the viewer to determine whether this unlikely change in attitude and personality does a disservice to the people each year who are shot and don't survive, or who suffer brain damage and never recover their speech or even consciousness, or people who have brushes with death and somehow don't become better people as part of their recovery.  It somehow seems more possible that if someone was a jerk before they got sick, they'd continue to be a jerk after they got well, from what I've seen.  Otherwise I'm left to believe that this gunman had incredible aim, to perform such precise brain surgery with his bullet in order to remove all of a man's bad qualities.  Unlikely.

And yes, this is the film where the screenwriter, J.J. Abrams, made a cameo as a grocery delivery boy, the one who Harrison Ford walks right by, and years later they would encounter each other again as J.J. was directing "Star Wars: Episode VII" with Harrison Ford back as Han Solo.  It doesn't really mean that much, it's just one of those weird coincidental things.  And it's why I pay attention to cameos.

Also starring Harrison Ford (last seen in "The Age of Adaline"), Annette Bening (last seen in "In Dreams"), Donald Moffat (last seen in "The Thing" (1982)), Rebecca Miller (last seen in "In a World..."), Elizabeth Wilson (last seen in "Catch-22"), Bill Nunn (last seen in "Cadillac Man"), Mikki Allen, Robin Bartlett (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), with cameos from John Leguizamo (last seen in "American Ultra"), James Rebhorn (last seen in "Cat's Eye"), Nancy Marchand (last seen in "Sabrina"), J.J. Abrams.

RATING: 4 out of 10 walk-in closets

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