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The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry (2017) movie poster The Book of Henry

Theatrical Release: June 16, 2017 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Colin Trevorrow / Writer: Gregg Hurwitz

Cast: Naomi Watts (Susan Carpenter), Jaeden Lieberher (Henry Carpenter), Jacob Tremblay (Peter Carpenter), Sarah Silverman (Sheila), Dean Norris (Glenn Sickleman), Lee Pace (Dr. David Daniels), Maddie Ziegler (Christina), Tonya Pinkins (Principal Wilder), Bobby Moynihan (John), Geraldine Hughes (Mrs. Evans), Max Simkins (Tommy), Jackson Nicoll (Morris), Donetta Lavinia Grays (Nurse Leah), Joel Marsh Garland (Big Ed)


Director Colin Trevorrow's first film was the indie Safety Not Guaranteed.
His second was the mega blockbuster Jurassic World. He's attached to write and direct the ninth episode of Star Wars for 2019 release. But before that, he gives us another smaller film in The Book of Henry. Henry marks the feature film debut of TV-seasoned screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz ("V") and it doesn't make a convincing case for his future in cinema.

This awfully contrived tale centers around Henry Carpenter (Jacob Lieberher of St. Vincent and Midnight Special), a nearly 12-year-old boy who elevates precociousness to a new level. Henry handles the family finances for his single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and his younger brother Peter (Room's Jacob Tremblay). Henry's stock market trades have earned the suburban New York family indefinite financial security, but Susan still works as a diner waitress when she isn't playing video games on the living room couch.

Gifted kid Henry Carpenter (Jacob Lieberher) creates a blueprint for bringing an abusive neighbor to justice in "The Book of Henry."

Henry, who boasts an intellect superior to most adults, has a real issue with apathy. To him, it's even worse than violence. So, the wise beyond his years youth takes efforts to expose the abuse that his classmate and next door neighbor Christina (Maddie Ziegler) has seemingly been enduring from her stepfather, untouchable police commissioner Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris of "Breaking Bad"). Is Glenn really abusing his stepdaughter? In what way? The movie doesn't concern itself with such details, instead choosing to take the contrived eponymous boy and give him a contrived life-altering brain tumor.

This development amplifies the importance of Henry's mission, as he crafts a book with companion audio cassettes directing his mother just how to deal with the creep next door.

There isn't a realistic or plausible note to Hurwitz's script. We've all seen movies with precocious children, but Henry is the most precocious child ever written. He's also improbably determined to bring justice to those he believes needs it. Even if you can get on board with the plot on a moral level (and you shouldn't be able to), you will have your intelligence insulted as Henry coaches his mother through literally every step of the way of helping their possibly abused neighbor.

Using the book and tapes her son gave her, Susan Carpenter (Naomi Watts) tries to hold neighbor Glenn Sickleman (Dean Norris) responsible for his actions.

The Book of Henry doesn't just feel ridiculously contrived, it also feels cowardly. Here is a movie presenting the issue of child abuse in the cloudiest of terms. We're not sure if Glenn is truly guilty of anything because the movie opts not to present the facts at all, skirting around like a middle school remake of Rear Window.
And rather than get to the heart of the issue and attempt to heal wounds, it instead conceives a farcical storybook solution, complete with a handsome love interest (Lee Pace, playing American) for mom.

Lieberher and Tremblay are among the most distinguished screen actors in their age group, but of course they are powerless to break down the glaring contrivances that mar the script. They're also unable to get you to buy into the ludicrous emotional manipulation the movie serves up. Watts has been great before, but is not the heroine we need here. Trevorrow has proven himself competent at movies big and small, but this is a misfire that suggests his anointment as tentpole filmmaker of the highest order may just be a premature reaction to the fact that the world was hungry for a Jurassic Park reboot. He infamously disputed being used as an example of white male privilege, but it seems safe to say that a female filmmaker making something as misguided as this Lovely Bones-esque mess would not be afforded the chance to rebound with a canon Star Wars episode.

Related Reviews:
Jaeden Lieberher: Midnight Special St. Vincent | Jacob Tremblay: Room
Naomi Watts: Demolition The Impossible The Ring The Sea of Trees Adore Eastern Promises
Dean Norris: Secret in Their Eyes Fist Fight Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season Men, Women & Children
Directed by Colin Trevorrow: Safety Not Guaranteed Jurassic World
Now in Theaters: Cars 3 Rough Night Wonder Woman The Mummy

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Reviewed June 16, 2017.

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