Movie Review: “The Book of Henry”
The Book of Henry
Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a child genius. He is a very intelligent inventor, he handles the household's bills, and manages his mom's financial situation. In many ways, he is more of a responsible adult than his mother. One day, he notices that his neighbor (Dean Norris) has been molesting his step-daughter (Maddie Ziegler), a girl in Henry's class. Henry decides to take action, but the solution is not as easy as simply notifying the police.
The girl's step-dad is also the police commissioner, so it is obvious that no one will believe Henry without substantial evidence, but Henry is no ordinary kid. He comes up with a master plan that will bring the police commissioner to justice. He fills his notebook with this plan, a plan that accounts for everything, down to the tiniest detail. Unfortunately, Henry cannot fulfill his plan himself. He is sick, and is physically unable to execute his plan, so he convinces his mother (Naomi Watts) to help save the girl next door.
The Pros & Cons
The Solution (-6pts)
Dr. Love-Interest (-3pts)
Pro: Acting (+6pts)
The acting in this movie was pretty strong from most of the cast. Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), Peter (Jacob Tremblay), Susan (Naomi Watts) and Glenn (Dean Norris) were all complex roles that required the actors playing them to access a variety of emotion. Fortunately, the actors in each of these roles did a great job, and made their characters interesting. Jaeden Lieberher played a child genius that struggled with the realization that someone he knew was being hurt on a regular basis. He also struggled with the fact that being a child (and a sick one) meant that he as unable to stop it himself.
Susan and Peter struggled with their own personal issues (that I will not get into to avoid spoilers), but has to be strong and move forward in order to save the girl. Then there was Glenn who was intense antagonist when he needed to be. Yet he also had to be pleasant at times, to make it believable that no one would have seen him for the monster that he was. This movie was filled with interesting, complex characters, and I thought the actors playing them did a great job of bringing their complexities to the screen in a compelling way.
Con: The Solution (-6pts)
This story presented a problem, with Henry discovering that the girl next door was being abused by her step-father on a regular basis. The story then presented a handful of possible solutions to that problem. Henry could have gone to the police, he could have informed the public, and he could have taken matters into his own hands. Glenn being the police commissioner meant that the police would not act without substantial evidence. Then there was the option of informing the public, either by telling as many people as possible or going to the news, but Glenn had a strong reputation as the police commissioner, one that would not be broken without substantial evidence. The last real solution was for Henry to take matters into his own hands, and this was what I had an issue with.
I did not really have an issue with him taking matters into his own hands, but I had issue with the way he planned to do it. Rather than plan to get evidence (recording the Glenn in the act, getting the girl to go to the police, or getting Glenn to confess by outsmarting him), Henry's plan just seemed way too extreme. There were seemingly countless things that he could have done, but Henry seemed to immediately jump to the most severe, and it seemed out-of-character for Henry. I could have bought Henry's plan, if it seemed like he had exhausted other options to no success, but to immediately jump to the most extreme solution felt unjustified.
Pro: Brothers (+4pts)
I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two brothers in this movie. Henry was a genius inventor and older brother to Peter, who was also smart, but more was more of a "normal" smart. Peter idolized his older brother and wanted to be an inventor just like him. Henry was a protective older brother that just wanted his little brother to be happy and safe. Their relationship was well written and the actors worked well on screen together. I thought this movie was at its best when these two were on screen together, and I think the young actors deserve a lot of credit for making these characters so effective. Jaeden Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay did a great job with their parts in this movie, and I look forward to seeing what they do next.
Con: Dr. Love-Interest (-3pts)
There was a storyline in this movie where something occurred that resulted in Henry having to go to the hospital. The doctor treating him, played by Lee Pace, should been in the movie for maybe ten minutes, but the character was then randomly forced into the rest of the story as a potential love interest for Susan. I am not quite sure what went wrong here. Was it a minor character that was forced into a more significant role, because there was a notable actor playing the part? Was the love interest storyline well written and then cut down to reduce runtime? I am not exactly sure what caused this, but the result was a forced love interest storyline that the filmmakers never did anything with. He was just kind of...there.
Pro: Henry (+8pts)
I kind of already touched on this, but Henry was a pretty interesting character to watch. Jaeden Lieberher did a great job in the role, but the character was also written really well, and that is what I want to talk about here. He was a child genius that was fully aware that he was socially awkward, so personally made the choice to go to a public school so he could improve his social skills. That was the kind of character he was. He did not want to go to public school for the purpose of interacting with other kids, but he had the awareness to know that his social skills were lacking and going to school was his means to practice those skills.
He also loved his brother, loved his mother, was a genius inventor, had an interesting philosophy on life and death, managed his mothers bills, was hugely successful in the stock market, and he had a brave behavior that made him unwilling to tolerate the horrors that were taking place next door. Take away the plot of this film, and I would still watch a whole movie about the life of this character. My only complaint was his "solution", but I already went into that at length. Other than that, this character was interesting, and I enjoyed following him in this story.
Con: Anti-Climactic (-5pts)
This sort of goes along with my issue with the solution that Henry came up with. Nonetheless, the story built up, built up, and built up some more, all leading up to that ridiculously unjustified solution. Then when it finally came time to capitalize on it, the filmmakers just sort of went "Ehh, never mind," and they took the story in a different direction. I did not like the solution that the characters went with, but after all of that build up, it felt like a major cop-out to not follow through with it.
Grade: C+ (79pts)
The Book of Henry was a fairly average movie. It was loaded with a talented cast who gave good performances, and it had some interesting characters for that talented cast to play. My favorite moments of this film were when Henry and Peter were interacting with one another, as the two had an entertaining, brotherly dynamic. From the characters to the plot, this movie mostly worked, but everything seemed to fall apart in the end. Henry's solution to the major problem of this story seemed unjustified, and in the climax of the story, the filmmakers did not even capitalize on the decision they made.
Then there was the random, unnecessary love interest for Susan. The doctor, who should have been a very small role, was forced into the rest of the movie as a potential love interest for Henry's mother and it just did not work. There were plenty of things that I liked about this movie, but there was also plenty that I did not. The result was a fairly average movie. If you cannot find anything better to watch, go ahead and give this one a shot. It was not bad, but there are certainly better movies out there.