Directed By: Mike Nichols
Written By: Jeffrey Abrams
Produced By: Mike Nichols, Scott Rudin
Cast: Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Mikki Allen, Bill Nunn, Donald Moffat, Bruce Altman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 108 minutes
Review Date: February 25, 2011
Regarding Henry’s sincerity is at once the movie’s crutch and its downfall. It is the story of a man of loose moral sensibilities who awakens to the recognition of treating his fellow human beings with decency, and all that has to happen to him to come to this realization is that he’s shot in the head.
Yes, it’s a two-for-one Big Issue movie, in which screenwriter Jeffrey Abrams (now more recognizable under the moniker J.J. Abrams) not only lets a heartless man gain a heart but also allows him to explore the trials and triumphs of battling a medical crisis. For a movie that proposes a call for seeing the inherent dignity of people like its protagonist and the people whom, in his former life, he cheated as a big-time trial attorney, Regarding Henry doesn’t treat Henry Turner (Harrison Ford) with much.
The movie opens with Henry pleading the case of a hospital, which has been sued by a man who claims he told a nurse he was diabetic and that she failed to note his condition, leading to complications. Henry, of course, doesn’t want to tell the jury the plain-tiff is a suicidal drunk, but he does have to tell them that the man suing the hospital is an alcoholic who has tried to commit suicide in the past.
Henry wins, goes home to scold his daughter, Rachel (Mikki Allen), for spilling juice on his prized piano, heads out to a party where he can’t stand the company with his wife Sarah (Annette Bening), and walks to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. There, he’s shot twice (by a young John Leguizamo) — once in the chest and once in the head. The doctor (James Rebhorn) tells Sarah her husband’s injuries are twofold: First is the damage to the frontal lobe, and second is arterial damage that prevented oxygen from getting to his brain. In other words, Henry undergoes a massive personality shift and begins to act, for all intents and purposes, like a child, relearning many basic functions and, of course, dealing with amnesia.
It’s a trifecta of opportunity, and Abrams’s screenplay never makes us feel it’s anything less cynical than that. As sympathetic as Ford is, especially during those early moments of true consciousness — beginning to realize he’s impeded from speaking, moving, and even remembering his wife — the characterization of the extent and nature of the results of the damage are, at times, inconsistent. In one scene, he is giving a fine speech to his col-leagues, limited only by a slower process of gathering and speaking his thoughts.
This comes at a supposed turning point, as we previously saw him wandering the streets (after he walks out of his posh apartment while the maid’s (Aida Linares) not looking) with the curiosity and attitude of a small child, buying a hot dog, answering a ringing payphone, and waltzing into a porno theater. That entire sequence, transparently played as a series of gags intended to laugh at his reaction to them, sums up the movie’s view of Henry. Later, even after his speech, he is back at work (“After all, we are human, aren’t we>” his boss (Donald Moffat) rhetorically tosses out, with the irony meant to come from the fact that he condones lying amongst his attorneys but actually arising from the cruelty of putting Henry back to work), bumbling around and uncovering his past, evil self. Thankfully, his daughter teaches him how to read again so he can over those depositions.
The movie no doubt means well, and at the start of Henry’s rehabilitation, director Mike Nichols examines the panic, uncertainty, and feelings of helplessness of Sarah and Rachel. These moments of Regarding Henry are honest about the effects of a traumatic experience, while most of the rest feels like manipulation and exploitation.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.