'Henry Poole': The spirit is willing but the film is weak

Radha Mitchell, Morgan Lily and Luke Wilson’s lives intersect in the religious-themed Henry Poole Is Here.

Overture Films

Radha Mitchell, Morgan Lily and Luke Wilson’s lives intersect in the religious-themed Henry Poole Is Here.

Henry Poole Is Here (PG) (100 min.) — Hollywood delivers so few movies with spiritual themes that complaints about its godlessness can seem justified. Then along comes Henry Poole Is Here, proving that some filmmakers have the spirit but don't always know what to do with it.

Henry Poole (Luke Wilson in somnambulist mode) obviously needs some kind of uplift. Depressed about a terminal diagnosis, he buys a depressing home in the neighborhood where he grew up as a depressed child, planning to live his final days in a depressed, drunken funk. Even Job would consider this guy a drag.

Then what may be a miracle happens. A water stain on a fresh stucco wall is seen by neighbors as an image of Jesus, especially Esperanza (Adriana Barraza, Babel) who hustles to tell her priest (George Lopez). Soon, Henry's wall is a makeshift temple with candles, flowers and prayers. Henry doesn't buy it, turning surly about the intrusions.

His next-door neighbor (Radha Mitchell) has a daughter (Morgan Lily) who hasn't spoken since her father deserted them. You can guess what happens. A friendly grocery clerk (Rachel Seiferth) is borderline blind. Again, you can guess what happens. Director Mark Pellington, who typically makes thrillers like Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies, struggles to make the obvious interesting and usually can't.

Henry Poole Is Here is aimed at the Bible bunch, who will be more tolerant of its oversimplification of theological mystery. They'll see Henry as a lost soul resisting Christian power until that becomes impossible, then sing praises when it does. But that doesn't change the fact that Pellington's movie is draggy-dull and a bit annoying with its piety. Hollywood still does sin much better than salvation. C-

Steve Persall, Times film critic

'Henry Poole': The spirit is willing but the film is weak

08/13/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 4:30am]

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