From time to time I had wondered how I would react if some doctor was to tell me I have X-number of days left to live. One plan I have is to quit the job, sell off everything, pack some essentials into a backpack, and hit the road to travel round the world, even though I know at some point I would probably succumb to whatever's sapping my life away, and at some unknown place, but man, imagine the adventure where risk is but a word in the dictionary.
Or I could opt for what Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) did, buying a house with whatever available cash, binge on vodka and pizza, and live life like a recluse with doors shut and heavy curtains drawn. He's been told that his lifespan is expiring soon, and tries unsuccessfully to buy the house he grew up in, settling instead for a substitute a few blocks down, and shutting himself away from the world as much as he can while waiting for the Grim Reaper to knock on the door. Except that the knocks come from curious neighbours who cannot fathom why this young man is living as he does.
It's somewhat similar to Half Nelson where the protagonist is being numb to life, and couldn't care less if his neighbourhood's burning to the ground. Luke Wilson, often overshadowed by his more illustrious brother Owen, carries the weight of this film on his shoulders with nonchalant ease as the titular Henry Poole. He's mean to everyone, in a stage of denial and has this immense rage against the world, despite neighbours such as elderly and religious lady Esperanza (Adriana Barraza), single mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell) and daughter Millie (the cute Morgan Lily who had her 1 minute cut at fame with He's Just Not That Into You), and grocery store checkout girl Patience (Rachel Seiferth) trying their best to connect a little with him and bring him out of his shell.
The crux of the story here centers around the mysterious, well, coincidental appearance of a water stain on the wall of his house, and to Esperanza, it looks like the image of Christ. So begins the mad tussle for his sanity when he has to spurn all Esperanza and her friends' advances into his property to pay homage to their God. And to compound matters, miracles start to happen all around Henry on the people he knows, thus challenging his very core beliefs through doubt.
Religious allegory aside, the theme here is primarily of hope and not giving up. I still feel a Plan A type as mentioned in my first paragraph, an optimistic, fear none, gung-ho spirit to take the bull by the horns, would be the best way forward. Sitting around moping and wasting away isn't a solution. Something like attempting and completing your bucket list before you call it a day. is. It's also a reminder that one shouldn't be too proud to admit the need for help, and to seek it. After all, the old man up there helps those who help themselves, and we must be the one who knock, so that it can be answered. Watching this modestly pace film allows you ample time to ponder over what you would do, if you were in Henry's exact same situation.
Well rounded great acting by the ensemble cast makes this one man journey toward redemption pretty engaging to watch. And having an excellent soundtrack helps to, even though it's just to accompany slow-motion, drama-mama visuals usually with Henry in deep thought, wondering what to do next with the limited time granted to him. Some may not like the cop-out ending, but I felt that it served its purpose in fulfilling its thematic exploration and reminding one and all that nothing's ever hopeless, unless you allow it to.