Potsy Ponciroli’s western cowboy film, Old Henry, is a slow drama about a few outlaws trying to conceal their true identity. Every cowboy is hiding behind a mask. The central character, Henry Mccarty, outlines the notion in his words.
It can be hard to tell who and what a man is, he’s got a mind to convince you otherwise.
As the tale unfolds, it follows a widowed Henry living on a farm in Oklahoma Territory with his son, Wyatt. Soon, their routine lives are thrown into disarray when a group of Cowboys arrives in search of a fugitive named Curry. The father tried to safeguard Wyatt from violence all his life, and to his worse luck, the danger came looking for him.
Henry Mccarty (Tim Blake Nelson), a man who has tried many vocations, settles down as a farmer. He lives in Oklahoma Territory with his son, Wyatt (Gavin Lewis), and her late wife’s brother.
While chopping the woods for dinner, the farmer spots a stranded horse at a distance. He follows the creature and finds a bleeding man, Curry (Scott Haze), and a satchel of cash along with a pistol near him. Hesitantly, Henry picks up the pistol and the satchel and brings Curry to his house.
Wyatt looks at Curry and believes he is an outlaw. However, Henry decides to attend to Curry’s wound and take care of him until he is healthy enough to move out. He hides the pistol and satchel in a cabinet along with other belongings. A curious Wyatt finds the pistol and unravels some newspaper cuttings that hint at his father’s buried past. However, before Wyatt can confront Henry about his real identity, three bank robbers disguised as lawmen arrive at Henry’s farm looking for Curry.
Sheriff Sam Ketchum (Stephen Dorff) informs Curry that he is a fugitive and warrants him in Missouri and Tennessee. He cooks up a story and portrays Curry as a killer, and asks the farmer if he has seen Curry. Henry denies and requests Ketchum to leave his farm. Ketchum and his deputies ride away, but he is confident that the shaky old farmer hides Curry. The deputies plan an attack while the farmer tries to unravel Curry’s identity.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who was Henry?
When Sam Ketchum first saw Henry, he held a gun to keep the three men away from his house. Ketchum discussed with his deputies that he had never seen a farmer holding a pistol like that. The dialogue was a subtle hint that Henry was hiding something.
Later that night, Curry inquisitively asked Henry if they had met before. Curry had a faded memory of Henry but couldn’t recall who he was. Trying to remember the past, Curry told a story about Fort Sumner in New Mexico, where he was born. It was the place where a famous criminal, Billy the Kid, was shot.
Curry told Henry that he had witnessed the shooting of Billy the Kid (originally named William H. Bonney). He was just a young boy and used to do chores for Peter Maxwell. Peter tipped off Sheriff Garett and his deputies and informed them about Billy. Curry was sweeping stalls when Garett walked into the house. But Billy wasn’t inside. He was cutting the meat near Curry. As soon as Billy saw the deputies, he stopped carving and looked at Curry to keep his head low to avoid the lawmen’s attention. Billy walked into Maxwell’s room and called out in Spanish. Curry outlined that Billy spoke Spanish as good as a Mexican.
Moments later, Peter answered Billy’s question, and suddenly Curry heard two shots. Curry believed it was the end of Billy, the Kid because he saw a dead body wrapped in a bloody sheet. But Billy survived.
At the end, when Ketchum and his men attacked Henry’s farm, Henry spoke with a Mexican in fluent Spanish. Curry heard the voice and concluded that Henry was Billy the Kid. He surmised that “he (probably Garrett or one of his deputies)” didn’t kill Billy that night but helped him escape.
In the opening sequence, Henry narrates that he lived in Mexico proper for a time, after which he settled down in Oklahoma as a farmer. Maybe, after the incident, Billy wanted to live an isolated life away from his outlaw reality. Hence, he began as a farmer and raised Wyatt like a good father, keeping him away from violence and guns. Henry tried everything to protect Wyatt from the shadow and felons of Billy the Kid. But destiny is inevitable. To protect Wyatt from Ketchum, Henry was compelled to pick up arms. His buried past came back to life.
‘Old Henry’ Ending Explained
Sam Ketchum took Wyatt’s uncle hostage and attacked Henry’s farm to arrest Curry. However, in his Billy the Kid persona, Henry attacked the outlaws and shot them one by one like an elite gunner. For the final showdown, Henry took Ketchum to the woods and shot him.
Henry returned back to the farm to help the weary Curry. However, as Henry tried to get off Curry’s shirt, he saw an iron branding on his arm. Probably, it was the branding of their gang. From the beginning, Curry told Henry that he was a lawman who was pursued by the bank robbers, Ketchum and his men.
When Curry’s true identity came to light, he shot Henry in the guts to save himself. Curry revealed that he told the truth but didn’t tell the whole truth. He was the sheriff of Woods County, but he and his deputies worked with Ketchum. They robbed a few banks with Ketchum, but when Curry discovered that Ketchum would gun them down on the last go, he tried to run away. In the opening scene, Ketchum killed Curry’s deputies and shot Curry from a distance. However, Curry managed to escape and ended up near Henry’s farm with a satchel filled with cash. Henry found Curry and brought him home, but Ketchum wanted to end Curry at all cost.
After revealing his true identity, Curry tries to kill Henry. However, at the pivotal moment, Wyatt arrived and shot down Curry.
In his last moments, Henry told Wyatt that though he never believed in redemption for his sins, raising a boy like Wyatt gave Henry some solace. After his death, Henry wanted his son to see the changing world and make his father proud. Wyatt buried his father near his mother’s grave and left the farm. He most likely took the satchel of cash to start a new life in a completely different land.
Old Henry is a 2021 Western action thriller film written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli.