Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.
This week we’ll be looking at REGARDING HENRY!
THE STORY: A cold-blooded, amoral attorney (Harrison Ford) becomes a new man after surviving a bullet to the head during a vicious armed robbery.
THE PLAYERS: Starring: Harrison Ford, Annette Bening, Bill Nunn and Mikki Allen. Written by J. J. Abrams. Music by Hans Zimmer. Directed by Mike Nichols.
J.J. Abrams is a director that I’ve admired for a long time, from the very first scripts he wrote — including Regarding Henry, which I was in. – Harrison Ford – Rolling Stone
THE HISTORY: Back in the early nineties, one of the hottest young writers was a guy named Jeffrey Abrams or, as the world would come to know him, J.J. Abrams. Fresh off writing a Jim Belushi film, TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS, Abrams hit the big time when his script, REGARDING HENRY, was turned into a movie by Paramount Pictures with no less than the great Mike Nichols and Harrison Ford, both of whom had been paired-up (to boffo box office) in WORKING GIRL, attached to direct and star.
Ford, at the time, was trying to break out of action hero mode. REGARDING HENRY was one of several ambitious dramas he made which he likely hoped would allow him to branch out. His efforts were largely successful, with WITNESS earning him an Oscar nomination, THE MOSQUITO COAST critical raves (if minuscule box office), while PRESUMED INNOCENT was a sizable hit. REGARDING HENRY, however, was a different beast and perhaps his greatest acting challenge to date, casting him as the survivor of a brain injury who, in effect, becomes a whole new person upon waking from his coma.
The result was rather coolly received by critics, although the box office wasn’t bad, with it earning a solid $40 million. It wound up becoming fairly obscure as far as Ford’s films go, quickly getting lost in the shuffle next to bigger crowd-pleasers like PATRIOT GAMES and THE FUGITIVE, although it wouldn’t be the last time Ford and Abrams would work together…
WHY IT’S GREAT: Audiences nowadays are far too cynical to ever accept a film like REGARDING HENRY. Imagine how a movie with a leading man playing someone with a brain injury would go down today. There would be an outcry from people saying it’s “ableist”, that the role should only be portrayed by someone with a similar injury, etc. Before even coming out the film would be mocked to the point that whatever studio was foolish enough to greenlight it would be burying it in the hopes of people just forgetting it exists, but alas the early nineties were a different time. Stars could stretch, and while many of these vanity vehicles were abysmal, some of them were more than decent. REGARDING HENRY is one such film.
Directed with class and sophistication by the late, great Mike Nichols, REGARDING HENRY is a sensitive, “feel good” movie about a cold-blooded yuppie lawyer (we can tell he’s an asshole because of his slicked-back hair) who seemingly loses everything but gains a lot in return. When the film opens, Ford’s Henry Turner is a wildly successful corporate attorney, but his marriage is in a shambles, his daughter loathes him and he’s all-around just a miserable SOB. It takes a bullet to the head (from John Leguizamo!) and virtually the death of his old self for Henry to become a worthwhile human. His adaptation to his injury and initial naivety is mostly played for laughs (such as his fascination with Ritz Crackers, which – natch – is important later) but the chemistry between Ford and a young Annette Bening is touching, with it believable that the two would fall in love again during his recovery. Even better is the relationship Henry has with his daughter, played by Mikki Allen (who only ever made the one movie). Ford has always come off well when paired with children on-screen, and their relationship is one of the things that makes REGARDING HENRY work.
Similarly, Nichols never shies away from sentimentality (there’s a puppy!) but also doesn’t go too overboard either, with the warmth of the film nicely counterbalanced with a synthy, avant-garde score by Hans Zimmer, which was probably cutting edge back in ’91. Overall, it’s a nice little package that holds up fairly well, even if it’s radically different from what Abrams would later be known for.
BEST SCENE: The scene where Henry is shot took me by surprise when I revisited it recently. I think what impresses me is how matter-of-factly Nichols films it, with the randomness of the crime emphasized. It’s quite chilling.
SEE IT: REGARDING HENRY is pretty easy to track down, with it available digitally on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, while in Canada it can be watched on Amazon Prime (that’s where I saw it!).
PARTING SHOT: REGARDING HENRY really is a time capsule. It’s an example of big-star, big-budget studio drama – the kind of mid-level adult film they used to make all the time before the business changed. Nowadays, if this got made at all it would be as a micro-budget indie, but again, I think audiences would be way too cynical to ever accept such a boldly sentimental film. Too bad, because in its way REGARDING HENRY is a sweet little movie that deserves to be recognized for Ford’s top-notch acting in a very difficult part.