As the first few minutes of Henry Poole Is Here unfolds, itís clear this is a small-town, character-driven story. Set locations are few, camera movements slow, and lead character Henry Poole emerges as a mopey somber man displaying less activity than a thermometer in Death Valley.
Henry (Luke Wilson) has just bought a new house in an older neighborhood. Instead of being anxious to fix it up, buy new furniture or meet his neighbors, Henry burrows into a mattress and barely leaves the house. Heís an enigma. We learn Henry doesnít work, exists mostly on a diet of pizza and booze, has a lone snapshot of two people thumb-tacked on the wall and wants to be left alone.
Suddenly finding a strange woman in his back yard starring at a stucco wall on his house, Henry asks why sheís there. Barely able to speak, she bows before a water spot on the wall, and declares itís the face of Jesus. Henry explains itís a water stain and chases Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) away. But not only does she return; her priest shows up, other believers arrive on a daily basis, and now Esperanza claims the two red splotches on the stain are Jesusí tears.
So frustrated by the absurdity of this notion and the onslaught of intruders, Henry becomes a raged man walking. Heís surprised when a small neighbor girl is found standing in front of the wall, touches it and then runs home.
Henry learns from the childís mother, Dawn (Radha Mitchell), that her daughter hasnít spoken a word in years but can know speak. Dawn believes itís because of the wall. She begins to form a friendship with Henry, which makes him soften somewhat, and then really begin to question his faith and those around him -- especially when he finds out he has a serious medical condition.
Although a small amount of possibility exists within this story, it never beats the odds. There are several plot points explored but never solved, unless I just missed them. Who is the picture on the wall in Henryís living room? Why doesnít he want to furnish his house? Why is he so depressed even before he finds out heís sick?
Wilson offers up a character heís portrayed more than once. Mitchell, as the effervescent Dawn, never seems to find an even balance in her characterís dilemmas. George Lopez brings only laughs when he shows up as the priest.
Adriana Barraza, nominated last year as Best Supporting Actress for Babel, is the only thing that held my interest in this film. Esperanza truly believes in her discovery, and itís because of her actions, whether others believe the idea or not, that they find their own lives significantly changing.
A stronger script focus on that idea and less unanswered questions about Henry Poole might have made Henry Poole Is Here more appealing.
(Released by Overture Films and rated ďPGĒ for thematic elements and some language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.